Office of the Vermont Attorney General

Attorney General Settles Consumer Protection Claims Against Suburban Propane For $711,000

October 23, 2015

CONTACT: Justin E. Kolber, Assistant Attorney General, (802) 828-5620

Suburban Propane, LP, one of America’s largest propane retailers, has agreed to pay $311,357 to Vermont consumers, $200,000 to the Low Income Home Energy Assistance Program (LIHEAP) and $200,000 in civil penalties to the State of Vermont, to settle claims that the company violated Vermont consumer protection laws. The Attorney General found that Suburban had a deficient system for complying with Vermont’s timeframes for removing propane storage tanks and issuing refund checks after consumers terminated propane service. Suburban also improperly billed and collected a gross receipts fuel tax, charged a regulatory fee that was not allowed under Vermont law, and terminated some customers without giving a mandatory 14-day notice.

“Vermont’s propane laws have strong protections for consumers and for ensuring fair competition,” said Attorney General Sorrell. “If you receive an envelope from the Attorney General in December or January, open it. If it’s about Suburban, it will include information from my office and for many consumers, at least some money to help with winter heating or holiday expenses.”

Suburban will be sending checks within the next eight weeks to 1,830 consumers who may have or are known to have had delays in tank removal or receipt of refunds, to resolve claims regarding Suburban’s propane service termination. Current Vermont law requires companies to remove propane tanks within 20 days of a customer’s request to terminate service (or from the disconnection date), and to issue refund checks within 20 days of disconnection. Statutory penalties apply for delays beyond the allowable timeframes.

Under the terms of the settlement, Suburban will now: (i) record all dates and other information necessary to comply with timeframes for terminating propane service; (ii) make payments of $283,000 to 1,830 Vermont consumers to resolve any actual or potential delay in propane service termination for the time period January 1, 2010, through April 13, 2012; (iii) refund $28,398 to 593 consumers for improperly charging a regulatory fee; (iv) automatically calculate the gross receipts fuel tax into Suburban’s fuel price and make the proper disclosure regarding the fuel tax; (v) give 14-days’ notice before issuing a delivery hold to any customer; (vi) promptly review any future consumer complaints regarding propane service termination; and (vii) pay $200,000 to Vermont’s LIHEAP program and $200,000 in civil penalties to the State.

This is the fourth and largest settlement since 2012 with a propane provider that failed to abide by Vermont’s timeframes regarding service termination. The higher settlement amount reflects, in part, the fact that Suburban had entered into previous settlements with the Attorney General’s Office on similar issues in 2003, 2005, and 2008. The current settlement also includes a fixed penalty provision in the event that Suburban has future violations on these issues.

Consumers who have questions about the settlement 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. Consumers who wish to file a complaint against a business are encouraged to fill out the on-line complaint form at: https://www.uvm.edu/consumer/?Page=complaint.html.

Consumers can also get regular updates from the Attorney General’s Consumer Assistance Program on Twitter @vtattorneygen, Facebook, or by subscribing to our monthly “Pure Vermont” e-newsletter (email ago.cap@vermont.gov).

 

Last modified: February 8, 2018