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Attorney General Settles Consumer Protection Claims Against Amerigas Propane For $545,000
CONTACT: William H. Sorrell, Vermont Attorney General, (802) 828-3173
November 4, 2013
AmeriGas Propane, LP, America’s largest propane retailer, has agreed to pay $254,986 to Vermont consumers, $190,000 to LIHEAP -- the Low Income Home Energy Assistance Program -- and $100,000 in civil penalties to the State of Vermont, to settle claims that the company violated Vermont consumer protection laws. The Attorney General found that for many Vermonters, AmeriGas delayed in removing propane storage tanks or issuing refund checks after consumers terminated propane service, and charged a fee for reading propane meters without proper disclosure.
“Starting December 2010, my Consumer Assistance Program received over 100 propane complaints,” said Attorney General Sorrell. “As a result, we successfully lobbied the Legislature to amend our propane laws to better protect consumers and promote fair competition. Unfortunately, AmeriGas failed to pay close attention. Vermonters were harmed, and now AmeriGas will compensate consumers and the State of Vermont.”
AmeriGas identified 169 consumers who, between January 1, 2010, and June 30, 2013, experienced delays in propane disconnection, whether in removing the tank or providing a refund. This group of consumers will receive an average of $500 for tank delays, and in excess of $1,000 for refunds. Another 817 consumers may have experienced either a tank or refund delay, and will receive either $50 or $125, respectively. Both groups of consumers will receive a payment and explanatory letter. Attorney General Sorrell added, “If you receive an envelope from the Attorney General in late November or December, open it. If it’s about AmeriGas, it will include at least some money to help with winter heating or holiday expenses.”
Attorney General Sorrell also noted that, “AmeriGas’s decision to stop charging the meter read fee is another good outcome. Clear and conspicuous explanation of fees is a bedrock principle of Vermont consumer protection laws.” Vermont Consumer Protection Rules prohibit the billing or collection of any charge that is not clearly and conspicuously disclosed through contract or writing at least 60 days prior to the charge. Between January 1, 2010, and February 29, 2012, AmeriGas collected meter read fees from over 800 consumers without proper disclosure. As of May 1, 2013, AmeriGas stopped charging any meter read fee in Vermont, and has refunded all customers who were charged a meter read fee.
Regarding the money contributed to LIHEAP, Governor Shumlin said, “I appreciate the Attorney General’s efforts to protect a program with the sole mission of helping low-income Vermonters heat their homes in the winter. As the State continues to fight for every dollar for LIHEAP, this settlement not only provides money for the program, but sends a message that Vermont will not tolerate violations of our consumer protection laws.”
Under the terms of the settlement, AmeriGas will now: record all dates and other information necessary to comply with timeframes for terminating propane service; make payments of $255,000 to almost 1,000 Vermont consumers to resolve any actual or potential delay in propane service termination for the time period January 1, 2010, through June 30, 2013; revise its Fee Disclosure Form to reflect that meter read fees are no longer charged in Vermont; and promptly review any future consumer complaints regarding propane service termination. Vermont’s LIHEAP program will also receive $190,000 from this settlement.
Consumers who have questions about the settlement (or to file a complaint) may contact the Attorney General’s Consumer Assistance Program, by phone: (802) 656-3183 or 1-800-649-2424, by email at Consumer@uvm.edu, or by mail to: Consumer Assistance Program, 146 University Place, Burlington, VT 05405.
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