Trading standards leafletsRef: 135064
Solid fuel and wood fuel - you pay for it, do you get it?
Solid fuel is normally marketed in two ways:
- by deliveries in sacks to your door; or
- by purchasing pre-packed bags in retail outlets (eg petrol stations).
It must always be sold by reference to weight in kilograms. With door to door deliveries, there are specific requirements relating to information which must be shown on the delivery note, eg merchant's name and address, type of fuel and weight. Fuel sold from retail outlets must be in fixed quantities.
There is no requirement for a statement of quantity for wood fuel, however if one is given it must be accurate. If the fuel is misdescribed in relation to the quantity or some other aspect, there may be a breach of the Weights and Measures Act 1985 and/or the Consumer Protection from Unfair Trading Regulations 2008.
In all trades the vast majority of sales are carried out without problems with both buyer and seller satisfied. However, things do go wrong occasionally, either due to a technical hitch or perhaps because someone is being less than honest. The fuel business is no exception. How can you make sure you are getting the amount you paid for?
In the guide
Smoke control areas
The dangers of carbon monoxide poisoning
Solid fuel covers coal, coke and solid fuel derived from them. It is normally marketed in two ways: by deliveries in sacks to your door or by purchasing pre-packed bags in retail outlets (for example petrol stations). It must always be sold by reference to weight in kilograms.
Door to door deliveries
The merchant can come in response to a specific order from you or on a regular delivery day. The fuel must be sold in twenty-five kilograms or multiples of fifty kilograms, and if you receive more than 110 kilograms you must be given a delivery note before the fuel is unloaded. If you are not in when the merchant calls, he/she is required to leave the note for you.
The delivery note must contain the following information:
- the merchant's name and address
- your name and address
- the type of fuel
- the total net weight
- the net weight in each sack
- the number of sacks
The merchant's vehicle is required to display his name and address and a notice that states the following: ‘All open sacks on this vehicle contain either 25 or 50 kilograms’.
If you suspect the weight delivered to you is incorrect you have the right, subject to certain conditions, to request that the merchant re-weighs the fuel in your presence but take note that if it is correct, he is entitled to reasonable expenses for doing this. You also have the option of complaining to your local trading standards service via Citizens Advice consumer service . They may be able to check the delivery, depending upon the circumstances of the delivery and what has happened to the fuel since it was delivered. This does not cost you anything.
Simple rules to protect yourself:
Wherever possible, be in at the time of delivery. Make sure you get your ticket before unloading starts and count the bags. Some merchants will leave the bags to one side as they are emptied and will count them again at the end to make sure that they have left the correct amount. Some delivery vehicles, called auto-baggers, weigh loose fuel into bags at the rear of the vehicle. These vehicles have a bag counter on them that the driver should zero before starting - it shows the number of bags delivered at the end. Before the driver starts, check the counter is on zero and check the number of bags at the end for yourself.
Be wary of unknown merchants who turn up unexpectedly in unmarked vans, either at strange times of the day (or evening), or who arrive a few hours before your normal delivery person. They may not present you with a delivery note, and they may not have weighed their bags at all. Report any such approaches to your local trading standards service, and try to get the vehicle registration number.
Merchants who are members of the Approved Coal Merchants Scheme will display the logo of the scheme on their vehicles and delivery notes.
Prepacked solid fuel from retail outlets
This fuel comes in sealed plastic bags which must have the net weight marked on them. It will be in fixed quantities, ten, twenty or twenty-five kilograms are usual. The packer is required to conform to rules designed to ensure that you receive the correct amount in each bag.
When you buy, check that the bag is sealed all round and there are no holes through which any fuel could have spilt.
Check the weight marked on the bag and compare sizes to prices - it may be that a larger bag represents better value for money. If you are comparing prices between shops, make sure you compare bags of the same weight when making your decision.
Quality and safety of fuel
There are industry standards for quality of solid fuel and experts exist who can examine fuel and ensure that any descriptive terms applied are accurate. If you have any concerns, you can contact your trading standards service (via Citizens Advice consumer service ) who will advise and assist and, if appropriate, will call on expert assistance.
The Approved Coal Merchants Scheme is run by the Solid Fuel Association (SFA), 7 Swanwick Court, Alfreton, Derbyshire, DE55 7AS, Tel: 0845 601 4406.
Members are required to abide by the Coal Trade Code and:
- supply fuel which is correctly described and of good quality
- make sure that there is sufficient information supplied with packed fuels
- ensure that the correct fuel is supplied for the correct appliance
- make sure that the staff have adequate knowledge of the coal trade
- display a price list
- deal with consumer complaints properly
- be a reputable trader
- inform consumers about the dangers of carbon monoxide poisoning
The scheme also provides a range of leaflets concerning the safe use of appliances such as open fires, room heaters and boilers.
Quantity of wood fuel
Unless your local authority has passed a bye-law that states otherwise, there are no requirements relating to the sale of wood fuel. Your local trading standards service should be able to confirm whether such bye-laws are in existence.
If there are bye-laws then the requirements are similar to that for solid fuel. When sold in quantities of less than 7.5 kilograms or more than 500 kilograms the wood fuel must be sold by net weight.
If there are no bye-laws in existence then there are no requirements to sell by weight or to provide you with a statement of the quantity provided. If you dispute a voluntary statement of quantity, whether written or oral, the supplier is under no obligation to confirm the quantity by re-weighing it. However, if a voluntary statement of weight has been given, trading standards may be able to check this for you. If proof of a false statement of quantity is found, action may be possible against the supplier under the Weights and Measures Act 1985.
Description of fuel
The Consumer Protection from Unfair Trading Regulations 2008 make it an offence to give any false or misleading statements concerning the goods, including the type of wood, especially if the type is of a premium kind such as hardwood, the source of the wood (i.e. from a particular area or region), and descriptions such as ‘logs’ when you in fact get sticks.
You also have rights of redress under the Sale of Goods Act 1979 (as amended) that goods must be of satisfactory quality (for example not arrive as a mouldy mess), and fit for their purpose (they should burn) and as described (for example if you order hardwood, it should be hardwood you receive).
Simple rules to protect yourself:
- use a supplier known to you or by recommendation of other customers minimises the risk of being delivered a lesser quantity or poor quality wood
- if wood is sold by the 'truckload', ask what size truck before agreeing to the delivery, and ask for the right to refuse it if you do not think the quantity is sufficient on arrival
- always try to be in when the delivery is made, so you can view the wood before it is off-loaded
SMOKE CONTROL AREAS
The Clean Air Act 1993 allows Councils to establish smoke control areas which are aimed at improving air quality by burning authorised smokeless fuels, and where the emission of smoke from chimneys is prohibited.
Coal and wood are not authorised smokeless fuels and therefore they can only be burnt in a smoke controlled area if they are used with an exempt heating appliance. Such appliances burn off or 'eat' the smoke produced by the fuel. For further information on this subject please contact your local environmental health service.
THE DANGERS OF CARBON MONOXIDE POISONING
Carbon monoxide is an extremely poisonous gas which can cause illness, damage to health and death. This gas is generated when carbon-based fuels have not combusted properly in, for example, your wood burning stove, open fire or barbecue (gas, charcoal and disposable). It is difficult to detect as you cannot see it, smell it or taste it.
For more information on carbon monoxide poisoning, ventilation, flue and chimney cleaning as well as a safety checklist, check out the Solid Fuel Association website
This leaflet is not an authoritative interpretation of the law and is intended only for guidance. Any legislation referred to, while still current, may have been amended from the form in which it was originally enacted. For further information, please contact the Citizens Advice consumer service.
The Citizens Advice consumer service provides free, confidential and impartial advice on consumer issues. Visit www.adviceguide.org.uk or call the Citizens Advice consumer helpline on 08454 04 05 06.
Last reviewed/updated: January 2013
© 2013 itsa Ltd on behalf of the Trading Standards Institute.