Office of Fair Trading
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OFT takes action against heating oil companies and price comparison websites
The OFT has taken action to prevent consumers being misled when searching online for heating oil supplies.
The OFT found that some websites offering to find consumers the best price for heating oil were not clear about whether they were price comparison sites or sites for ordering heating oil directly from a single supplier.
The OFT has secured undertakings under the Consumer Protection from Unfair Trading Regulations (CPRs) from WCF Fuels Limited and Boiler Juice Limited which prevent them from engaging in business practices that could be misleading.
This follows an OFT investigation which found that:
WCF Fuels Limited, which operates the website fuelfighter.co.uk, claimed to make price comparisons but only quoted prices for its own products and services. It also used false customer testimonials on the site.
boilerjuice.co.uk, operated by Boiler Juice Limited, whilst a price comparison website providing price quotations from GB Oils Limited well as price quotations from other non-related heating oil distributors, was not transparent about its links to parent company DCC plc, which owns GB Oils Limited, the largest heating oil distributor in the UK.
The businesses investigated have co-operated with the OFT's investigations and voluntarily made changes to their websites.
The investigation was carried out in connection with an OFT market study into the supply of energy to the four million households who are not connected to the mains gas grid. The outcome of this study will be published in October 2011.
Clive Maxwell, Executive Director at the OFT 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.'
WCF Limited runs the fuelfighter.co.uk website. It claimed to be a price comparison website but did not operate as such. The website has been changed to reflect its operation as a website to order fuel from WCF Limited. The company and directors have signed formal undertakings as to future conduct.
Boiler Juice Limited, the business behind the price comparison site boilerjuice.co.uk, made changes to its website to make its ownership by parent company DCC plc clear. Other changes to the website include changes to the quotation process so consumers can see how many firms are providing quotations. The company and directors signed formal undertakings as to future conduct.
A letter of advice has been sent to Johnston Oils Limited, owners of cheapheatingoil.co.uk who made changes to cheapheatingoil.co.uk.
The undertakings provided relate to alleged breaches of the Consumer Protection from Unfair Trading Regulations 2008 (CPRs).
CPRs contains a general prohibition against unfair commercial practices and, in particular prohibitions against misleading actions, misleading omissions and aggressive commercial practices. The Regulations are enforceable through the civil and criminal courts.
All the businesses investigated have co-operated with the OFT investigations.
See further details about the market study into the off-grid energy sector. The outcome of this market study is due to be published in October 2011.