Heating Oil Websites can be Deceptive

Impartiality in the heating oil domestic market can be as slippery to grasp as the heating oil itself. Last time you visited a heating oil website that offered oil quotes, did you know which company was actually quoting you? And when you last read a shining customer review, did it seem too good to be true?

Unfortunately for the hard done by consumer, some websites have been less than honest about who they really belong to. Supposedly independent price comparisons have been promised, only for the system to supply prices from a single supplier. And finally, one supplier actually fabricated heating oil commendations of service.

OFT Steps In

In a press release on 9 September 2011, the Office of Fair Trading stated that it had secured undertakings under the Consumer Protection from Unfair Trading Regulations (CPRs) from WCF Fuels Limited and Boiler Juice Limited. It took this action in response to public feedback in its off-grid market survey in May 2011. Reported by the BBC in a news item entitled OFT criticises heating oil websites, the OFT's Clive Maxwell said:

Our investigation has aimed to ensure that any relationships between businesses supplying heating oil and websites are transparent and that the number of prices that have been compared by the website is stated prominently.

It is important that people can genuinely shop around and make informed decisions about which suppliers to use. The changes that we have secured mean that people buying domestic heating oil will be better able to compare deals on offer.

The consumer campaigning group Consumer Focus welcomed the OFT action. Adam Scorer, Director of External Affairs, stated:

This is a welcome step by the Office of Fair Trading in a market where consumers believe they have been losing out. Over a million households use heating oil and last winterís huge price spikes left many struggling to afford massive bills. With heating oil customers usually facing much higher heating bills than gas customers it is important that they are able to shop around easily to find the best deal around.

We would urge anyone worried about the cost of heating oil to buy before winter kicks in to avoid paying peak prices. People can also cut the price they pay by getting a discount through buying with a group of neighbours, getting several quotes to find the best price and finding out about grants and schemes which could make their homes more energy efficient.

What the Consumer Needs to Learn!

There are several lessons that us consumers can learn from this sorry behaviour:

  • Research any price comparison website: who actually owns it, and how many companies it will compare.
  • Treat customer testimonials with great caution. Use your favourite search engine to see what else has been written about the website or company in question.
  • Specifically, treat anything from boilerjuice, fuelfighter (run by WCF) and cheapheatingoil with a pinch of salt.

Unfortunately it can be very hard to avoid these sorts of sites when doing searches online for cheaper heating oil. For example, GB Oils (Boilerjuice owner) has been 'promoting' the boilerjuice website by getting rubbish pages written on random websites, with these pages linking to boilerjuice; this is the 'spam' version of search engine optimisation (SEO) and unfortunately does work for them. It would come as no surprise to learn that other heating oil websites (comparison or otherwise) are doing the same.

Be especially wary of any company owned/operated by the DCC Group (aka GB Oils). It owns over 40 different trading names. Around December 2009 it bought oil supplier OJ Williams and immediately cranked up prices to customers by around 15p/L. It was found guilty under the Consumer Protection from Unfair Trading Regulations 2008, and "admitted failing to provide information on the true price of heating oil, causing consumers to make transactional decisions they would otherwise not have made". Read the full report in the South Wales Guardian: Heating oil firm fined £51,000.


4 Comments

by David Brown on 24 July 2012 Reply
John,

At long last the http://www.heatingoilshop.com website is up and running and covers the whole of the country. It is an automated site that will give heating oil customers the ability to choose their suppliers and receive quotes from the selected suppliers. Have a look and give us some feednback please. Thank you.

David J Brown

by Robin on 12 September 2011 Reply
How glad I am that I looked at your site and also, saw Chris's comment. In our area (RH14) CPL and Southern Counties are now quoting the same GB Oil prices but when Pace quoted slightly less, I thought they must be independent of GB Oils. They were the cheapest of 7 suppliers that I tried, but Boilerjuice was quoting 2p less - only they won't supply to us because we have an offset fill. Nor would they tell me the name of their cheapest supplier. There is no substitute for shopping around. I now use Boilerjuice merely to give indications of the trend in prices, but even then, I suspect they may lie in order to get us to buy from the other GB Oils subsidiaries when they have surplus stock or have just put up prices.
by John on 12 September 2011 Reply
Shame that you are not to be able to recommend an honest web site regarding the price of heating oil. It is a scandal that the government are ignoring the rip off by oil suppliers.The price per barrel has dropped to $85 from $112. When previously, 14 months ago,the price per barrel was $85 consumers paid 43 pence per litre and when the price was $112 we paid 59 pence per litre. But we are still paying 56 pence per litre - RIP OFF.

The Government still sits on it's hands and pontificates. We in the rural areas have no choice but to deal with these modern day pirates as best when can. I thought that we are all in it together -that's another legalised rip off!

by chris on 11 September 2011 Reply
It is good to do checks with a lot of different suppliers - OJ Williams, CPL Petroleum AND Pace (all now owned by GB Oils) all quote lower prices than Boilerjuice everytime I call them.

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