With Heating Costs Expected to Remain High This Winter, AG Coakley Offers Advice to Consumers
BOSTON - With federal officials expecting exceedingly high oil prices this year, Attorney General Martha Coakley’s Office issued the following information to help people be educated consumers and protect themselves.
The United States Energy Information Administration is warning that average oil bills could rise by nearly $200, with average households paying nearly $2500 through March.
AG Coakley offers the following advice to consumers:
FINDING THE BEST PRICE:
- Contact several fuel oil suppliers in your area to compare options.
- Ask about any surcharges that may be added to a weekend delivery, emergency delivery or inclement weather delivery.
- Do your homework on fuel oil suppliers before making any agreement. Ask to see their references and check with the Better Business Bureau.
- Consider budget plans that allow for payments over time based on estimated consumption, projected fuel prices and past usage history.
- There are typically two types of contracts available to home heating oil consumers: a “fixed price contract” and a “capped price contract.”
- With a fixed price, the consumer locks into a set price, agreeing to pay a certain price per gallon for the entire season, even if the cost goes up or down. This may include pre-purchase programs to pay for heating oil up front.
- With a capped price contract, the oil company puts a maximum price or “cap” on the cost of oil during the season. If the cost goes down, consumers may pay less.
- Read all contracts closely. If you are shopping for a contract, consider which type of contract is best for you. Contracts may include added fees.
- Compare oil suppliers, costs and contracts before committing to a contract.
- Learn your rights and obligations under your oil agreement.
- Maintain your heating system. Have it checked by a professional at least once a year and change the filters regularly.
- Set the thermostat to 65 degrees during the day and 55 degrees during sleeping hours or when the house is unoccupied.
- Replace old thermostats with programmable thermostats.
- Do not block registers and hot water radiators.
- Install storm doors and windows.
- Have adequate insulation throughout the house, especially in the attic and around your water heater. Seal cracks around windows and doors.
KNOW YOUR RIGHTS:
- Under certain circumstances, a gas or electric utility is not allowed to shut off the heat, even for non-payment.
- These circumstances are:
- If everyone in the household is over 65;
- If the consumer can demonstrate to the company that he or she is unable to pay the bill, and that someone who lives in the home is seriously ill or is a child under the age of one. To qualify, contact the utility company and explain the situation.
- There is also a winter moratorium in place every year from November 15 to March 15. During those months, gas and electric companies cannot shut off service because of inability to pay. This moratorium does not apply, however, if service was shut off for non-payment before November 15.
- Consumers may seek help from the local fuel assistance office if they are having trouble paying bills. The consumer does not have to be unemployed to get help.
- Utility companies can work out discount, budget and payment plans.
- Other non-profit organizations can help with low-cost fuel and discounts to winterize and insulate your home.
Additional resources are available on the Attorney General’s website.