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Consumer advice information

Solid fuel and wood fuel

In the guide

This guidance is for England, Scotland & Wales

Solid fuel, such as coal and coke, can be sold:

  • by a trader delivering them in sacks to your door
  • in prepacked bags in retail outlets, such as petrol stations

It must always be sold by weight in kilograms (kg). With door-to-door deliveries there is specific information that must be shown on the delivery note. Fuel sold from retail outlets must be in fixed quantities.

How can you be sure you are getting the right quantity and that the fuel meets your expectations?  What can you do if a trader misleads you or uses an aggressive commercial practice? This guide explains the legal controls that apply to the sale and delivery of fuel as well as the rights and remedies you have when a trader supplies fuel to you.

Solid fuel

Solid fuel includes coal, coke, solid fuel derived from coal and any solid fuel that contains coal or coke. It can be sold by a trader delivering them in sacks to your door and in prepacked bags in retail outlets, such as petrol stations. It must always be sold by reference to weight in kilograms (kg).

Door-to-door deliveries

The trader may deliver fuel to you after receiving an order or they may operate a regular delivery round. The fuel must be sold in bags of 25kg or multiples of 50kg. If you receive more than 110kg you must be given a delivery note before the fuel is unloaded. If you are not in when the trader calls, they must still leave the delivery note for you.

The delivery note must contain the following information:

  • the name and address of the trader
  • your name and address
  • the type of fuel
  • the total net weight 
  • net weight in each sack
  • the number of sacks

The trader's vehicle must display their name and address. If the fuel is made up in bags that are not securely closed, or if fuel is delivered from the vehicle via an auto-bagger, the vehicle must also have a notice that states 'All open sacks on this vehicle contain either 25kg or 50kg'.

Subject to certain conditions, if you suspect the weight of the fuel is incorrect, you have the right to ask the trader to re-weigh it in your presence. However, be aware that if the weight is correct and is not short, the trader is entitled to 'reasonable costs' from you for re-weighing the fuel. If the weight is short, report your complaint to the Citizens Advice consumer service for referral to trading standards.

If possible, try to be present at the time of delivery. Make sure you get your ticket before unloading starts and count the bags. Some traders will leave the bags to one side as they are emptied and will count them again at the end to make sure that they have left the correct amount. Some delivery vehicles have auto-baggers that weigh loose fuel into bags at the rear of the vehicle. These vehicles have a bag counter on them that the driver should zero before starting; it shows the number of bags delivered at the end. Before the driver starts, check the counter is on zero and check the number of bags at the end for yourself.

Be wary of unknown traders who turn up unexpectedly in unmarked vans, at unusual times of the day or evening or who arrive a few hours before your normal delivery person. They may not present you with a delivery note, and they may not have weighed their bags at all. Try to get the vehicle registration number and report any such approaches to the Citizens Advice consumer service for referral to trading standards. Traders that are members of the Approved Coal Merchants Scheme (opens in a new window) will display the logo of the scheme on their vehicles and delivery notes.

Approved Coal Merchant Scheme

Prepacked solid fuel from retail outlets

This fuel comes in sealed bags that must have the net weight marked on them. It will be in fixed quantities, usually 10kg, 20kg or 25kg. The packer is required to conform to rules designed to ensure that you receive the correct amount in each bag.

Before you buy, check that the bag is sealed all round and there are no holes through which any fuel could have spilt.

Check the weight marked on the bag and compare sizes to prices; it may be that a larger bag represents better value for money. If you are comparing prices between retailers, make sure you compare bags of the same weight.

Quality & safety of fuel

There are industry standards for the quality of solid fuel and experts who can examine fuel and ensure that any descriptive terms applied are accurate. If you have any concerns, you can contact the Citizens Advice consumer service for referral to trading standards.

Trade association

The Approved Coal Merchants Scheme is run by the Solid Fuel Association (SFA) (opens in a new window), 7 Swanwick Court, Alfreton, Derbyshire, DE55 7AS, tel 01773 835400, email sfa@solidfuel.co.uk.

Members are required to abide by the Coal Trade Code (opens in a new window) and:

  • supply fuel that is correctly described and of good quality
  • make sure that maximum information is supplied with packed fuels
  • ensure that the correct fuel is supplied for the correct appliance
  • make sure that the staff have adequate knowledge of the retail coal trade
  • display a detailed and up-to-date price list
  • deal with consumer complaints promptly
  • be a reputable trader
  • inform consumers about the dangers of carbon monoxide poisoning and how they can obtain safety information

The scheme provides a range of leaflets concerning the safe use of appliances such as heaters and boilers as well as open fires.

Wood fuel

Quantity of wood fuel

Unless your local authority has passed a bye-law that states otherwise, there are no requirements relating to the sale of wood fuel. 

Where there are local bye-laws, wood fuel must be sold by net weight and if it is in a container ready for sale the net weight must be made known to you. However, the requirement to sell wood fuel by net weight does not apply for quantities of less than 7.5kg or more than 500kg.

If there are no bye-laws in existence then there are no requirements to sell by weight or to provide you with a statement of the quantity. However, if a trader gives a voluntary declaration of weight that is incorrect they may be committing an offence.

There are simple rules you can follow to protect yourself:

  • use a trader that is known to you or is recommended by other customers to minimise the risk of receiving a lesser quantity or poor quality wood
  • if wood is sold by the 'truckload', ask what size truck before agreeing to the delivery, and ask for the right to refuse it if you do not think the quantity is sufficient on arrival
  • always try to be in when the delivery is made, so you can view the wood before it is off-loaded

The Solid Fuel Association runs the Approved Wood Fuel Merchant Scheme (opens in a new window). If you purchase firewood from a scheme member:

  • wood fuel should be accurately described
  • the trader can provide basic advice on using a wood burning appliance safely and efficiently
  • the trader should provide customer service to the standard set by the Solid Fuel Association

Approved Wood Fuel Merchant Scheme

Your rights

The Consumer Protection from Unfair Trading Regulations 2008 prohibit commercial practices that are unfair to you. If a trader misleads you or engages in an aggressive commercial practice and you make a decision that you would not otherwise have done then the trader may be in breach of the Regulations. For example, if a trader misleads you by claiming you are buying premium hardwood when you actually receive an inferior wood this may breach the Regulations.

If you enter a contract because a trader misled you or because they used an aggressive commercial practice, the Consumer Protection from Unfair Trading Regulations 2008 give you rights to redress: the right to unwind the contract, the right to a discount and the right to damages. The 'Misleading & aggressive practices: your right to redress' guide gives more information.

These rights are in addition to rights and remedies you have under the Consumer Rights Act 2015, which sets out what you are entitled to expect from fuel supplied by a trader. These are commonly referred to as your 'statutory rights'. The law also gives you remedies against the trader if they fail to meet your expectations.

Key rights:

  • the trader must have the right to supply the fuel to you. If they do not (perhaps they do not actually own it and cannot therefore sell it to you) then you have a legal remedy
  • the fuel must be of satisfactory quality. The description, price, condition of the fuel, fitness for purpose, appearance and finish, safety, durability and freedom from minor defects are all important factors when considering quality. Public statements, such as those in advertising or on labelling, made by the trader, the producer or their representative about the fuel, must be accurate and can also be taken into account when deciding if it is of satisfactory quality
  • if you make a trader aware that you want fuel to be fit for a particular purpose - even if it is something that it is not usually supplied for - then you have the right to expect it is fit for that purpose
  • you have the right to expect that the fuel is as described
  • if you see or examine a sample, then the fuel must match the sample
  • if you see or examine a model, then the fuel must match the model

Key remedies:

  • short term right to reject the fuel and obtain a full refund
  • right to a repair (unlikely to apply to fuel) or replacement
  • right to a price reduction or a final right to reject the fuel

The 'Sale & supply of goods: your consumer rights' guide gives more information.

If you buy fuel from a trader that sells at a distance and without face-to-face contact with you (such as from a website), you have extra rights under the Consumer Contracts (Information, Cancellation and Additional Charges) Regulations 2013. A cancellation period of 14 days during which you can cancel the contract may apply. In addition to information requirements set out in other laws, traders must give you certain information such as details about the fuel, information on costs, cancellation requirements, payment, delivery and performance before they make a contract with you.

Traders who supply goods intended for current consumption, which may include fuel, on frequent and regular rounds to your home, residence or workplace, are exempt from the requirements of the Consumer Contracts (Information, Cancellation and Additional Charges) Regulations 2013. The 'Buying by internet, phone & mail order: distance contracts explained' guide gives more information.

Smoke control areas

The Clean Air Act 1993 allows councils to establish smoke control areas where the emission of smoke from chimneys is prohibited. Only authorised smokeless fuels are allowed to be burnt in these areas, which are aimed at improving air quality.

Coal and wood are not authorised smokeless fuels and therefore they can only be burnt in a smoke-controlled area if they are used with an exempt heating appliance. Such appliances burn off or 'eat' the smoke produced by the fuel. For further information on this subject please contact your local authority's environmental health service.

The dangers of carbon monoxide poisoning

Carbon monoxide is an extremely poisonous gas which can cause illness, damage to health and death. This gas is generated when carbon-based fuels have not combusted properly in, for example, your wood burning stove, open fire or barbecue (gas, charcoal and disposable). It is difficult to detect as you cannot see it, smell it or taste it.

For more information on carbon monoxide poisoning, ventilation, flue and chimney cleaning as well as a safety checklist, please see the Solid Fuel Association (opens in a new window) website.

Key legislation

Last reviewed / updated: May 2017

Please note

This information is intended for guidance; only the courts can give an authoritative interpretation of the law.

The guide's 'Key legislation' links may only show the original version of the legislation, although some amending legislation is linked to separately where it is directly related to the content of a guide. Information on amendments to UK legislation can be found on each link's 'More Resources' tab; amendments to EU legislation are usually incorporated into the text.

For further information please contact the Citizens Advice consumer service, which provides free, confidential and impartial advice on consumer issues. Visit the Citizens Advice website (opens in a new window) or call the Citizens Advice consumer helpline on 03454 040506.

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The county council is not responsible for this information.