Rip-off claims over heating oil price rise


The average price for heating oil used in homes has shot up and is likely to keep rising for a further month, experts claim

The price of heating oil used in 1.5m homes is expected to keep rising in the new year after rocketing by more than 50% in a month, prompting claims that suppliers are exploiting the cold weather to make excessive profits.

Figures from the comparison website show that the average price for heating oil has shot up from 47p a litre on November 17 to 71p now, an increase of 51%. Consumers in Hampshire are being charged 79p a litre — the most in the country.

By comparison, the price of crude oil has risen from $83 (£54) to $91.67 (£59) a barrel, an increase of just over 10%. The price of kerosene, the most common type of heating oil, has risen even less steeply on the Rotterdam stock exchange, from 38.6p to 41.49p a litre, a jump of less than 8%.

John Hall, an energy consultant, said he could see no reason for suppliers to charge more than 60p a litre, including 10p for delivery and a small amount for VAT. “Anything over 60p is profiteering,” he said.

But Jeremy Nicholson, the director of the Energy Intensive Users Group, a consumer body, said the price of heating oil was likely to carry on rising for a further month, with suppliers blaming poor weather and distribution problems.

Householders who depend on oil for heating — many of them elderly and in rural areas without mains gas — may have to ration their usage. Some may even be left without heating as they wait up to four weeks for a delivery, government officials warned last week.

Charles Hendry, the energy minister, told the House of Commons last Thursday that the situation could become “very serious”.

There are also fears that the price increases will contribute to a large rise in the number of deaths among elderly people this winter.

Britain’s biggest pensioner organisation told The Sunday Times that the toll could well reach double that of last winter, when there were 25,400 “excess deaths” between December 2009 and March 2010. Of these, 20,600 were aged 75 or over.

Dot Gibson, general secretary of the National Pensioners Convention, said: “That could double in the present circumstances, given the heating oil price rise, the situation with cuts in local government and the closure of day centres and luncheon clubs, as well as cutbacks in home care.”

The inhabitants of many cities are being forced to pay far more than the national average. The highest prices shown on the site this weekend were in Southampton and Winchester, at 79p a litre. Just five years ago, heating oil cost less than 25p a litre.

Consumer Focus, the industry watchdog, said that it had received complaints that suppliers were charging as much as £2 a litre in some areas, while elsewhere the price had remained at 50p.

The Office of Fair Trading is monitoring heating oil charges for any evidence of price-fixing.

Oil companies and retailers have also been accused of profiteering following a sharp increase in petrol prices. The average price for unleaded reached a record 122.5p last week.

Jamie McGinnes (Sunday Time)

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