OfReg fuel sector consultation period ends next week

Utility regulator OfReg is seeking the views of operators and the general public on draft regulations relating to how services and products in the fuels sector are provided to consumers.

A public consultation on the proposed consumer protection regulations in the fuel sector launched by utility regulator OfReg ends on Friday, 30 Aug.

The regulator is seeking the views of operators and the general public on the draft regulations which prescribe quality standards for the way in which services and products in the fuels sector are provided to consumers.

The 48 draft regulations address both retail and non-retail aspects of the fuels market, what information needs to be provided, how complaints should be handled, contract terms, billing, quality services standards and void contract clauses.

Among others, OfReg proposes to implement fuel quality standards by the end of the fourth quarter of 2019. The regulator is specifically seeking input on whether its current regime of random fuel testing is sufficient until the Fuel Standards Committee has fully implemented the National Fuel Quality Standards.

The regulations also require specific nozzle sizes and colours to distinguish between different grades and blends of fuel at gas stations. These will be introduced in a phased process.

In addition, the regulations call for accurate, up-to-date and clear advertising of information provided to consumers concerning the contents, such as gasoline octane index rating, ethanol content, diesel cetane index, bio-diesel content and additives, displayed in the vending area and on the vendor’s web page.

All marketing communication in the media or advertising is subject to the Truth in Advertising Rules and should be provided clearly, without the use of any unnecessary legal or technical terms, according to the proposed regulations.

The regulations further cover any information, such as rates and terms and conditions, that needs to be provided before a consumer enters into a contract, and details complaints procedures, in person, by phone, in writing or online, that must be made available and advertised to consumers. These complaints procedures should be free of cost to the consumer, and statistics about complaints should be provided to the regulator on a quarterly basis.

Another section of the regulations details the terms and conditions that should be part of contracts between service providers and consumers with the aim of ensuring clarity and fairness for all parties.

Similar regulations concern billing and the provision of fully itemised bills, as well as the remedies available to service providers in response to unpaid outstanding balances. OfReg is asking for input on whether the draft regulations will reduce the number of erroneous bills and consumer complaints.

Consumers who are harmed by unfair commercial practices should have access to contractual and non-contractual remedies, including the right to compensation for damages, under the proposed rules. In these circumstances, entities such as consumer organisations could request an injunction or a redress order.

Any contractual provisions in contracts that purport to limit the liability of the service provider for damages caused to a consumer are void. Contract clauses that attempt to expand the definition of force majeure to limit the liability of a provider are also not allowed under the proposed regulations.

Responses to the consultation must be submitted to OfReg by email, post or courier on or before 5pm, 30 Aug.