Information is available from the Trading Standards Institute to help consumers. Please note the county council is not responsible for this information.
In the guide
This guidance is for England, Scotland and Wales
Solid fuel, such as coal and coke, can be sold:
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 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).
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 25 kg or multiples of 50 kg. If you receive more than 110 kg 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 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 25 kg or 50 kg'.
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 will display the logo of the scheme on their vehicles and delivery notes.
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 10 kg, 20 kg or 25 kg. 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 AND 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.
Members are required to abide by the Coal Trade Code and:
The scheme provides a range of leaflets concerning the safe use of appliances such as heaters and boilers as well as open fires.
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 7.5 kg or more than 500 kg.
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:
The Solid Fuel Association runs the Approved Wood Fuel Merchant Scheme. If you purchase firewood from a scheme member:
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 and aggressive practices: rights 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.
The 'Sale and 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 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 and 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 that 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 website.
The Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs (DEFRA) has produced a guide on the use of wood burning stoves and open fires and the steps you can take to reduce environmental and health impacts.
HETAS works for safe, efficient and environmentally responsible use of biomass and other solid fuels.
Last reviewed / updated: October 2020
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 legislation can be found on each link's 'More Resources' tab.
For further information in England and Wales contact the Citizens Advice consumer service on 0808 2231133. In Scotland contact Advice Direct Scotland on 0808 164 6000. Both provide free, confidential and impartial advice on consumer issues.
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The county council is not responsible for this information.