Here are some frequently asked questions often asked by consumers.
Below are some FAQ and their answers of questions that you may find being asked by both customers and the media
People can either save up themselves or talk to a distributor regarding a monthly payment plan where there fuel consumption is agreed in advance and the yearly cost spread over 12 months. Customer can check their account balances regularly and if they are in credit have the balance returned to them promptly. Our only request would be that people start such plans in periods of low demand to enable a surplus to be built up before the first delivery. One or two companies are now offering fixed price deals for heating oil where the cost is fixed for 12 months.
Your first step should be to contact your nearest Citizens Advice Bureau (CAB). They will check that you are in receipt of any benefits to which you are entitled.
Some buying groups are now joining forces with credit unions which provide small loans at low interest rates for consumers. Again CAB should be able to advise on where such schemes operate.
In the first instance contact your distributor as soon as possible to apprise them of the situation. Most distributors will try to come up with a payment plan for the outstanding money if at all possible. Where this is not possible or where a repayment plan is defaulted, then the distributor may take legal action for the recovery of the monies owed.
Unsurprisingly it is far better to ensure that you do not find yourself in this position. There are options to spread fuel payments (see above) so that you do not need to pay out large lump sums at one time.
FPS advice is:
Be patient – trust your regular supplier. Tell them when you will run out so that they can prioritise.
Explain your circumstances honestly. Last winter, a number of customers who told their supplier they had run out actually had plenty of oil when the delivery tanker arrived. This makes things worse for those who have genuinely run out.
Don’t try to bully or be rude to your supplier’s sales staff. They are doing their best to help everyone get the oil they need.
The weather is playing a major part in the current backlog on deliveries. The tanker drivers are really putting themselves out to get supply to as many people as possible in the difficult conditions. They deserve praise for their efforts that often go above the call of duty.
The FPS and its members have also, over the last few months, been running a campaign to educate people to think ahead, order oil early and be prepared for bad weather situations.
We must emphasise that customers need to think about ordering early each year before the bad weather hits. Suppliers are usually less busy in this period and able to offer better value than in the peak periods of December, January and February. This advice has certainly paid off this winter!
It would also help to ease the situation if customers who currently have a good supply of oil in their tanks delay until the current backlog of orders has been dealt with rather than order a top-up of their tank at the moment, when they don’t really need it.
Our members understand that times are hard financially and people may feel they have to wait until they can afford it before ordering fuel, but a lot of oil distributors run payment schemes. These schemes enable customers to have bigger, less frequent deliveries but then spread the payments out over the whole year, helping both financially and ensuring homeowners don’t run out of fuel when the bad weather hits hard.”
For people wanting to find their nearest oil distributor the FPS has set up a special area on this website for consumers to easily find their nearest supplier.
Distributors buy the refined product (kerosene in the case of heating oil) from the refiners and importers. They have no dealings with crude at all. They collect kerosene from the refineries and terminals and either take it directly to the customer or many have their own, intermediate storage. However, as distributor will rarely have more than four or five days' storage capacity at NORMAL order levels.
Whilst it is true that off specification fuel can cause boiler problems it is seldom the real cause for breakdowns. Fuel is delivered in huge batches to supply terminals and is manufactured to British standards in refineries both of which mean that the quality of the fuel remains very consistent.
Where boiler problems arise which are attributable to the fuel, it is almost always due to problems with the householders storage facilities. Most householders do not undertake any maintenance of their tanks interiors which means that over time undesirable contaminants such as water (from condensation), particulate matters and even biological growth can develop to the point where the boiler is unable to properly burn the fuel.
Therefore householders should have their storage facilities regularly checked for water and other contaminants as well as the condition of the tank itself so that problems can be recognised early and dealt with appropriately. An OFTEC registered technician should be able to carry this work out on your behalf.
The short answer is no. The principal sources of water in oil storage tanks are rainwater and condensation, with condensation being the more common. Rainwater can enter a tank if openings in the tank are left open, seals are faulty or damaged or the integrity of the tank has been compromised by rusting or by perforations, cracks or splits in the body of the tank. Condensation will often occur naturally as the result of temperature differences between the tank/oil and the surroundings.
It is most unlikely to have been delivered with the fuel. Water has a very low solubility in fuel oils and, if present in a dispersed form, would create a distinctly hazy product that would immediately fail to meet the specified criterion for the product, which is required by the British Standard to be clear and bright. Delivery tankers are not flushed with water, or water-based cleaning agents, and oil distribution facilities are fitted with high off-take points and comprehensive water trapping and filtration systems. It is part of a delivery driver’s training to ensure that all of the openings used when filling a tank and gauging its contents are closed securely after the filling operation has been completed. Also most delivery pumps will automatically shut off if water is detected.
Almost all domestic central heating boilers in the UK run on kerosene (BS2869 Class C fuel). This fuel remains fluid in temperatures well below those we are experiencing in the UK.
Recent reports of problems with fuel flow may be due to water in the storage tank as a result of condensation over the years. This water may have entered the fuel line from the tank to the burner and is turning to an icy slush, blocking the feed line or the filter element and restricting the flow of oil to the burner.
Good tank husbandry is key and ensuring water is removed and filters changed on a regular basis is part of the maintenance and inspection process.
A minority of burners installed in commercial sized properties in the UK operate on gas oil (also known as red diesel) which is a different fuel from kerosene and can, in extremes of temperature such as those currently being experienced, form wax type crystals that block pinch points such as fuel filters or small bore burner feed lines.
Tank husbandry is part of the answer to preventing problems caused by crystal formation. Thought should also be given to ensuring the tank is not sited in an area exposed to the wind in order to reduce the effect of wind chill. Pipework and other restrictions in the burner feed lines such as filters should be protected wherever possible and not exposed to the elements.
We suggest that customers speak to their regular heating engineer who services their boiler, should they experience such a problem.
A list of boiler technicians can be found at: www.oftec.org
Fortunately, there are things you can do to reduce the risk of oil theft. The FPS has the following advice for consumers:
If your tank has a lid, fit locks. This may be a legal requirement for some tanks. Your tank installation engineer or fuel delivery company will be able to advise you.
Consumers with the ‘vent and fill’ design should fit the lockable cap designed to secure this type of container. Of course, locking your tank may prevent your supplier from filling your tank if you’re not at home, so make sure your supplier has a key or code for access.
Monitor your oil tank on a regular basis. Remote electronic oil level gauges are available which will set off an audible alarm if the oil level in the tank suddenly drops or falls below a quarter full. These gauges can be located in the kitchen or perhaps a utility room to warn of any potential problem.
If you belong to a neighbourhood watch scheme you can discuss this issue of oil theft with your group co-ordinator so that everyone of the scheme can be vigilant.
If the need arises to replace your tank, consider where you position the tank and make more secure. But remember to leave clear access for the delivery man at the fill point and the gauge can be seen.
You MUST never lock or block the tank vent/ breather, as this will cause the tank to split and cause further damage.
Consider fitting CCTV to monitor the tank
Security lights can have a very positive effect and make any property a much harder target for the thief. It’s not always necessary to floodlight the area with high power beams, as a more subtle level of lighting may be all that is needed. Low energy “dusk till’ dawn lights positioned close to the tank should, in most cases, provide sufficient light to illuminate any suspicious activity. This type of light can be both effective and inexpensive. High powered lights can be used but care should be taken not to cause any nuisance to neighbours or road users.
Consumers in isolated locations, especially with tanks sited near the road should be especially vigilant. Rural areas are quieter and less frequently patrolled by police than their towns and cities, so homeowners need to look out for each other. Lookout for suspicious-looking individuals and vehicles, particularly vans, on both yours and your neighbours’ properties. If you’re particularly concerned, consider relocating your tank to an area that is more secure, remembering to leave it accessible for deliveries. Fitting CCTV and/or security lights to monitor your tank can also go some way to deterring potential thieves.” Further help can also be found on this site.