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March 7, 2014

N.H. House panel wants protections for pre-buy fuel customers

CONCORD — As the state gets a new round of complaints from customers about a heating oil distributor, a New Hampshire House panel is recommending protections for pre-buy customers.

The House Commerce and Consumer Affairs Committee, on a 14-4 vote, this week recommended passage of House Bill 1282.

Dealers would have to register and file an annual report with the Secretary of State, maintain an inventory equal to 75 percent of what is promised under contracts, and obtain a surety bond and letter of credit.

It also would require dealers to reimburse consumers for undelivered fuel, at the contract price, within 30 days after the contract ends.

They would be obliged to explain by what means they will fulfill a pre-buy contract. Contracts would be restricted to one heating season.

“These provisions provide added protection for consumers and additional tools to enforce those protections to reduce the number of New Hampshire families left literally in the cold despite having already paid for their heating oil,” said the committee’s chairman, Rep. Ed Butler, D-Hart’s Location.

Twice this winter, customers of the Fred Fuller Oil and Propane Co., which has an office in Derry, have complained about delivery problems.

The company has blamed phone system problems.

The Attorney General’s Office this week said it had received at least a dozen complaints about Fuller.

New Hampshire Citizens Alliance, a social and economic justice advocacy group, is supporting the bill, executive director Kary Jencks said.

“We’re definitely in favor of this,” Jencks said. “This is really about protecting middle class and working families.”

Granite State Progress also is backing the bill.

“It’s been a long, cold winter in New Hampshire and for too many families, it’s been made even harder because they couldn’t count on the heating oil they had already paid for,” executive director Zandra Rice Hawkins said. “This bill increases consumer protections and remedies that will protect more families from finding themselves in this terrible situation.”

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