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February 03. 2014 8:53PM

Answers still sought from Fred Fuller

The state hopes to have answers by Friday to why Fred Fuller Oil & Propane Co.'s business practices led to a breakdown in delivering home heating oil to customers during a bitter cold snap — just days before the oil company's deadline for customers to enter into prepaid contract for the 2014-2015 home heating season.

The investigation also seeks to determine if Fuller Oil Co. violated consumer protection laws governing prepaid home heating oil contracts.

Meanwhile, Fuller Oil Co. set Monday as the deadline for customers to make full payments required under prepaid home heating oil contracts for next winter's heating season.

"We still have concerns about what happened in this failure to deliver, so we continue to inquire further to see if we can figure out what happened and find ways so that Mr. Fuller can prevent this from happening again," Senior Assistant Attorney General James T. Boffetti said Monday.

To date, Fuller Oil Co. hasn't provided a satisfactory reason for why it didn't deliver oil to hundreds of customers whose tanks were at or near empty in December and early January, said Boffetti, who is head of the New Hampshire Attorney General's Consumer Protection Bureau.

Fuller's claim that a failed telephone system was responsible only partly explains what happened, Boffetti said. Those not getting their oil deliveries included customers on automatic delivery who didn't need to contact the company by telephone, he said.

"It was a significant failure of Mr. Fuller to deliver oil to his customers during a severe cold snap and it caused tremendous concerns about the safety of those consumers who were without oil or very much at risk of being without heat in their homes," Boffetti said.

Fuller agreed to reimburse New Hampshire nearly $21,000 the state spent to operate a 24-hour emergency hotline to take calls from Fuller Oil customers who needed oil but couldn't contact the oil company by telephone.

The hotline handled 3,832 calls during a nearly six-day period beginning Jan. 6.

Fuller Oil Co. is one of the state's largest home heating fuel delivery companies with an estimated 30,000 customers. It has main offices in Hudson and a service area that spans northern Massachusetts to north of the Lakes Region.

The state also learned Fuller Oil Co.'s delivery problem began several weeks before it came to the Consumer Protection Bureau's attention on Jan. 2. There have been reports of customers on automatic delivery not getting deliveries or only getting small amounts of oil delivered beginning in mid-December. Determining why this happened is part of the ongoing investigation, he said.

The state has received about 115 formal complaints against Fuller Oil Co. in January, Boffetti said.

kmarchocki@newstote.com


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