Some propane customers in Vermont are getting checks in the mail as part of lawsuit settlement with AmeriGas, the nation's largest propane dealer.
New laws went into effect in May of 2011 to make it easier for propane customers to change dealers. Your old dealer must remove its tank and give you a refund for any gas left over in the tank -- all within 20 days.
The attorney general's office says AmeriGas was slow to respond to the new law and as a result about 1,000 customers who terminated service between January of 2010 and July of 2013 will share in the settlement.
"The total settlement is just under $550,000, $255,000 of that will go directly to consumers in checks we will send in late November or early December -- it will be in envelopes from the Attorney General's office and they are free to cash those checks," said Vermont Attorney General Bill Sorrell.
The State of Vermont will receive $100,000 in penalties for the violations and another $190,000 will go into the state's home heating assistance fund.
More than 100 complaints about propane dealers poured into the Attorney General's consumer assistance program in 2010. Specifically problems when consumers tried to change to another fuel dealer. Dealers were taking their time to disconnect and pick up their tanks, and were slow to credit those folks for their unused propane.
The legislature responded and changed the laws effective in May of 2011. Tanks and reimbursements now have to happen within 20 days of the notice to disconnect, or the propane company faces fines. But Vermont's Attorney General says the state's largest propane dealer, AmeriGas, was slow to comply.
"So the folks who are getting checks are ones who terminated service with AmeriGas between January 1 of 2010 and June 30 of 2013. This is roughly a thousand Vermonters," said Vermont Attorney General Bill Sorrell.
Sorrell said 169 consumers will now get refunds of $500 to $1,500. Another 817 consumers will get between $50 and $125. "The total settlement is just under $550,000, $255,000 of that will go directly to consumers in checks we will send in late November or early December -- it will be in envelopes from the Attorney General's office and they are free to cash those checks," Sorrell said.
The Low Income Heating Assistance Program will get $190,000 to help heat the homes of low-income Vermonters. The state will receive $100,000 in penalties for the statutory violations.
One former AmeriGas customer who is getting a check is Susan Linnell. She has a long list of complaints about the company. When she decided to change to another Propane company, AmeriGas didn't pick up her old tank for months. "And when I notified them that the service was going to be disconnected and they needed to come and get their tank that was in July of 2011. They didn't remove it until November 10th," Linnell said. "And when they removed it they came on my property, took the tank away, didn't let me know they were coming, so then I had no idea how much gas was in the tank. They gave me a refund but I don't know if it was correct or not."
Linnell says if you have a problem with your fuel dealer, confront them immediately. "If you can't resolve it, make a complaint to the Attorney General's office which I did through the consumer affairs department at UVM," she said.
Sorrell says AmeriGas' decision to stop charging the meter read fee is another good outcome to this settlement. And he says since the new laws went into effect, the number of complaints that they have gotten about propane dealers overall have been going down.
To contact the AG's Consumer Assistance Program -- (800) 649-2424