Do your homework before prepaying home heating oil
REGION -– It is tough to think about winter in late August, but for some in Maine, now is the time to begin looking for an oil dealer to deliver home heating oil throughout the upcoming colder months.
Senator John Patrick (D–Oxford County) is urging those prospective consumers to be very cautious before prepaying for the service.
“Folks should make sure they do their homework and find a reliable company,” said Patrick. “A lot of hard earned money goes into heating ones home and it is important that the company is there to deliver when it is needed.”
Senator Patrick cited the unexpected closure of two oil companies in Topsham and Saco as reasons for caution. Both businesses left their prepaid customers without oil delivery or reimbursement of their money. He has also heard from dozens of local residents concerned with an oil dealer in the area, although the findings are not complete.
“It is unconscionable to think that Mainer’s could be put in such a vulnerable situation during a period of time when the service is needed the most,” added Patrick. “No one should be left in the cold like that.”
Nearly 80 percent of the homes in Maine rely on oil for heat.
To be proactive, Senator Patrick is encouraging consumers to take the time and gather as much information as possible before making a commitment. To help, the Maine Legislature created a law that prohibits home heating oil dealers from offering prepaid guaranteed price plans without first providing one of three forms of financial protection to ensure the ability of the dealer to deliver the product. According to the Attorney General’s Office, consumers should ask the dealer which of the financial security methods is used to meet the state law and keep a copy of the contract along with any other related paperwork.
The law requires the dealers to obtain one of the following: contracts with suppliers that guarantee the dealer will be able to purchase at a fixed price an amount equal to 75% of the maximum gallons the dealer is committed to delivering to its prepaid customers; a surety bond equal to at least 50% of the total amount paid by its prepaid customers; or a letter of credit equal to 100% of the total amount paid by its prepaid customers.
The terms of each customer’s prepaid contract must specifically include the total amount of money paid by the customer under the contract; the maximum number of gallons committed by the dealer for delivery; and confirmation that the dealer has secured one of the three consumer protections listed above.
Those using LIHEAP (Low-Income Home Energy Assistance Program) should contact Community Concepts to get a list of oil dealers.
If someone experiences a problem with their oil delivery and would like to file a consumer complaint, they should call the Attorney General’s Consumer Information and Mediation Services at 1-800-436-2131 or email firstname.lastname@example.org.
Senator Patrick said, “Unfortunately it is buyers beware market out there. Hopefully with the proper homework, no one will fall victim to a defunct oil company.”