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Community buying group warns of rocketing heating oil prices
Published:  07 December, 2011

Heating oil buying groups are warning rural communities that oil prices could rocket this winter if demand suddenly peaks after an unusually mild autumn.

Prices increased by up to 70% in the run-up to Christmas last year, with prices reaching 80p per litre in some areas, as the UK’s oil suppliers grappled to cope with the high demand caused by harsh temperatures and widespread shortages.

With the MET Office predicting an even colder winter this year, Community Buying unLimited is advising the members of its 70 Oxfordshire buying groups and associated groups around the country to buy heating oil ahead of the anticipated winter price increases.

“The challenge of keeping warm in winter is a real and pressing issue for the UK’s rural communities,” said Chris Pomfret, founder of Community Buying unLimited. “This year a major new problem is emerging – residents have been lulled into a false sense of security by the recent mild temperatures. This has sent oil orders plummeting to a dangerously low level for the time of year.

"While we encouraged the UK’s heating oil buying groups to buy before the end of November, independent buyers have been delaying their orders, which could result in panic buying and serious shortages if a sudden cold snap hits.”

Heating oil prices currently stand at an average of 59p/litre, which is double the average cost per litre in 2008, and could rise sharply over the forthcoming month. Rural residents who belong to buying groups such as Community Buying unLimited benefit from price reductions of up to 20% by ordering together, while consolidated deliveries can cut carbon emissions from the delivery process by as much as 50%.

Communities across Oxfordshire are already benefiting from a new oil buying programme designed by Community Buying unLimited and the Oxfordshire Rural Community Council. The programme is now being rolled out to 37 rural community councils across the UK.

While those involved already buy in the region of 300,000 litres of oil per month, Chris Pomfret envisages that the total volume could be as much as 2.5m litres per month in a year’s time, as the scheme builds in popularity.

“It really is as simple as this: every community that relies on energy being delivered on a truck shares something in common – they are disconnected,” said Pomfret. “Our vision is to literally join up the dots of the off-gas communities and create a huge people’s movement with a powerful rural voice.”

Oil is the most commonly used off-grid energy source for heating homes, and is the primary source of heat in approximately 1.7 million UK households. Two-thirds of heating oil is used between October and March, according to government figures, which can trigger strong demand throughout the winter months.

“The cost of heating oil in rural areas has a direct knock-on effect on the rural economy, as businesses and farms also struggle to afford rampant oil prices in winter,” concludes Pomfret. “By helping rural communities and businesses to operate in a more sustainable way, buying groups can help to inspire behavioural change, empower communities to engage in tackling energy issues and generate awareness of the importance of renewable energy and low-carbon lifestyles.”