Fuel Price Comparison Websites are Reprimanded by the Office of Fair Trading

A couple of websites that compared heating oil prices across what appeared to be from several different suppliers have been admonished by the Office of Fair Trading, an organisation that regulates competition in a given market and enforces consumer protection laws.

The FuelFighter(dot)co.uk website only quoted prices for fuel supplied by WCF Fuels Limited, despite the fact that the website looked like a neutral price comparison site. Furthermore, the website was actually run by WCF Fuels Limited, which is misleading for visitors to the site as they would have believed that they were receiving independent information on heating oil prices across the market, when in fact this was not the case at all.  Also, testimonials on the website could not be verified which means that the recommendations could be biased.

BoilerJuice(dot)co.uk website was also positioned as a price comparison site for fuel, but it heavily promoted GB Oils Ltd, which also happens to be the biggest heating oil supplier in the UK. However, the website failed to disclose a connection with DCC Plc, their parent company that also owns GB Oils Ltd.

The CheapHeatingOil(dot)co.uk website was also found to be in breach of the Consumer Protection from Unfair Trading Regulations 2008. This is because the website could be misconstrued as a price comparison site and mislead people about the purpose of the website due to the style and content.

The problem with these websites supposedly comparing heating oil prices was that they listed their own heating oil suppliers, without explicitly expressing that they were promoting their own interests.  This is not giving consumers the information they need to make informed decisions about where to buy their fuel from. In essence, the content on these websites were deceptive and used purely to refer visitors to suppliers that would benefit their business.

The Office of Fair Trading were made aware of these practices by consumers as well as their own investigations into their off grid energy market study. Their conclusions stated that the websites in question claimed that they were getting the best prices on heating oil, without saying clearly if a price comparison was made at all. Moreover, the Office of Fair Trading were concerned that the number of prices being compared was not declared and that there was no indication of whether there was a link between the supplier giving the quotation and the price comparison website.

The findings from the Office of Fair Trading regarding the operations of comparison websites of fuel prices resulted in the above businesses making changes to their websites to show any connections they have with any fuel supplier that provides quotes and to announce any material information relating to the ownership of the website if it is relevant and applicable. This will allow consumers to make their fuel purchasing decisions (such as looking at heating oil prices) on the premise that they can easily compare the deals on offer online and to be aware of any close links between the website and the suppliers if there are any. In addition to this, the CheapHeatingOil(dot)co.uk website made it clear that it was not a price comparison site and they also put their ownership details prominently on the home page.

All of the businesses mentioned in this article changed their information on the website voluntarily to rectify the issues discovered by the Office of Fair Trading.

Author: David Khan

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