What do you do if you place an order for heating oil, and none arrives? This is what happened to Go Locate customer Martin Armstrong, in December 2010, and we describe his sorry tale here to show consumers how they can get their money back.
Mr Armstrong placed his order with Go Locate, by 'phone, on 10 Dec 2010. The money, £745.92, was taken from his account four days later. He had never been given a delivery date or name of supplier, despite repeated calls and emails to the Go Locate offices.
After getting nowhere in finding out who would supply his oil, Mr Armstrong finally asked if Go Locate would be using Southern Counties Fuels (as they had done for a previous delivery), and they said "yes".
The relief of this knowledge was short-lived, as a call to SCF revealed that they knew nothing of an order in Mr Armstrong's name. In fact, they had never even heard of Go Locate! It did transpire that SCF were aware of very little, however, as they couldn't even find a record of their previous delivery back in March - even when Mr Amstrong quoted the date and delivery note details previously printed out by the SCF delivery tanker driver.
Mr Armstrong was quickly realising that he may never see his oil delivery, so he rang the Office of Fair Trading (OFT) whose Consumer Direct service gave excellent advice about the supplier's obligations under Consumer Protection (Distance Selling) Regulations 2000. He was advised to write to Go Locate, recorded delivery, quoting the regulations and stating his intention to recover payment if there was no delivery within 30 days of the order being placed.
One minor snag is that the Go Locate Website shows an office address in Rawtenstall, Lancs but shows no postcode. The Royal Mail online postcode finder could not provide a postcode. Even the Royal Mail postcode special enquiry service operator could not find a postcode. Mr Armstrong eventually had to ring a property agent advertising office space in the same building, to ascertain the actual postcode. For the record, the postcode for the new Hall Hey Business Centre is BB4 6HL. [NB The full address is listed in the website's golocatefuel.co.uk domain entry.]
The first letter went to Go Locate posted 6 Jan, using Royal Mail's 'Signed for' Service, costing £1.15. (Incidentally, the Royal Mail Track and Trace still shows delivery outstanding on 26 Jan.) First cancellation letter (.doc format).
In anticipation of Go Locate's failure to fulfill the order, Mr Armstrong placed an order on 7 Jan with Total Butler (an original supplier who Go Locate undercut), and they delivered on 14 Jan. The service that Mr Armstrong received from Total Butler was "excellent".
This is Mr Armstrong's diary entry for the morning of 11 Jan:
Go Locate Fuel have still not delivered 1,000 litres of oil ordered on 10 Dec, for which my account was debited on 14 Dec. If the oil does not arrive today, then the 30 days will have expired and I shall exercise my rights under the Consumer Protection (Distance Selling) Regulations 2000 to cancel the unfulfilled contract and instruct my bank to recover the payment. Communication from Go Locate has been nothing short of appalling.
Once 30 days were up, on 11 Jan, Mr Armstrong was able to ask his bank to initiate Charge Back. At no stage had he been given any indication of a delivery date beyond "probably January" when the order was placed. He then sent a second letter to Go Locate, posted using Guaranteed Next Day Delivery at a cost of £5.05, and enclosing a copy of the 6 Jan letter; it was delivered the next day. Second cancellation letter (.doc format).
There was still no response from Go Locate until 24 Jan when Mr Armstrong received an answerphone message saying that according to their records, the oil has been delivered, and "could I please let them know?" He responded by email and sent a copy by first class mail (£0.41) to his bank, who have no external E-mail service. Thus far, his bank has dragged its feet and apart from two 'holding letters', Mr Armstrong was still awaiting the money being returned to his account. His message to Go Locate is as follows:
Dear Ms Martin,
Further to your call today, no oil has been delivered. As advised in my letters, copies of which are attached, since no oil was delivered within 30 days of the date of my order, the order was cancelled on 11 January 2011 (my letter was received by you and signed for on 12 January 2011 - see attached). I therefore placed an order with an alternative supplier who delivered on 14 January and whose invoice has today been paid by post, today. As instructed, my bank has initiated action to recover the payment taken from my account by Go Locate, on 14 December 2010.
Copy by post to:
xxxxx Bank Debit Card Services
Finally, on 26 Jan, Mr Armstrong received the chargeback into his bank account and he could now regard the sorry mess as resolved. He had to endure a severe oil shortage for one month, setting the central heating thermostat at 10°C to eke out the remaining oil (except when his family visited at Christmas).
It appears that this experience is not an isolated case. Other similar complaints are listed at www.consumeractiongroup.co.uk forum and reviewcentre.com, describing non-deliveries or even surcharges - after payment - to make a delivery. One ripped-off customer reckons that Go Locate are deliberately playing the commodities market by delaying the time between taking payment and satisfying the order, gambling on a price fall in the meantime. Enfuriated customers who threaten to cancel the order are told that there is a 15% cancellation charge, despite no specific mention of this on their website. (There is a general condition of reserving the right to charge an admin fee.)
If you have had similar "failure to supply" issues, please add a comment below. If a supplier gave you excellent service, especially during the tricky cold period, we'd also love to hear from you!