Scores of rural households have spent days without heating or hot water in subzero temperatures because of delays to their deliveries of liquid petroleum gas (LPG).
About 200,000 UK homes, mostly in remote areas, rely on LPG because they are not connected to the gas network. However, some are reporting being left without fuel over Christmas, despite their accounts with their supplier being hundreds of pounds in credit.
Others were unable to heat their homes or cook food during the recent cold snap.
Among those who contacted the Guardian were a couple in their late 70s who were forced to turn off their heating during January to conserve gas for cooking and a pensioner whose supply ran out in temperatures of –3C.
Both households are contracted to AvantiGas and said that they had been given no explanation or apology for the lack of fuel.
Another AvantiGas customer, James Morrison, said his teenage son fell ill after the family spent seven days without heating in temperatures that reached -7C.
“AvantiGas told us they’d mark us as urgent on the day our gas ran out,” he said. “Nothing happened. Two days later I called again and was told we could now be classed as ‘extreme urgent’ and that if [the tank] was found to be more than 10%, I would be charged £280.”
Verity Evans has been waiting for a delivery since mid-November and has been without heating, hot water or cooking facilities for a week.
“We are on a telemetric contract with AvantiGas, which automatically triggers a delivery request when the level in the tank reaches 25%,” she said.
“We called when we were down to 10% and Avanti told us they wouldn’t let us run out of gas. The gas ran out seven days ago and each time we call we’re told we’ll be contacted within 72 hours. Our seven-year-old is asthmatic. We are desperate.”
AvantiGas arranged a delivery to Morrison and the three pensioners when the Guardian raised their plight, but Evans is still waiting.
The company said that “ever-changing factors” could cause delays, including vehicle breakdown, poor weather and “route efficiency”, but refused to confirm whether it was struggling to meet demand. It said that customers would only be notified the day before a delivery “in order for us to remain as efficient as possible”.
Dozens of customers contracted to other suppliers are reporting similar problems on review websites.
Calor blamed technical issues at certain refineries for disruption to its delivery schedules, which have left some households without fuel. “Due to current high demand, recent poor weather and regional supply issues at some UK oil refineries, a small proportion of our customers have been impacted by late deliveries and in some cases run out of gas before we are able to reach them,” said a spokesperson.
The UK’s 4 million off-grid households lack the legal protections granted to mainstream gas customers as the sector is unregulated.
Customers can complain to UtilitiesADR if a complaint is unresolved after eight weeks, but that is too late for those with urgent supply issues. The energy regulator Ofgem, which has no remit over non-metered supplies, obliges utilities firms to keep a priority services register of vulnerable customers and to maintain their supply even if they are in debt.
The trade association for LPG, Liquid Gas UK, requires its members to prioritise vulnerable customers if cold weather disrupts deliveries, but its customer charter is not legally binding.
A spokesperson for Liquid Gas UK said: “Our members are working hard to reduce delays. Recent cold weather has caused a temporary increase in demand for LPG across the UK, at a time when the sector is also addressing short-term supply and logistical challenges, including a reduction in product availability from UK refineries.”