Complaints against United Propane Gas mount

Some customers under a fixed-price agreement now complain their supplier is overcharging.
Some customers under a fixed-price agreement now complain their supplier is overcharging.

HUNTSVILLE, AL (WAFF) - Complaints regarding United Propane Gas have continued to pour in.

The Kentucky based company has several branches here in Alabama. Folks are claiming they have a set, agreed on price with the company, but UPG is not honoring those deals. Reports are saying some are being forced to pay more than double the amount in their contracts.

People we spoke to said they are taking advantage of a bad situation.

Several people said they took complaints to the Alabama Attorney General's Office. The office said nearly 100 complaints came in this week. They claim they will look into each complaint, but wouldn't say if any action will be taken against the company.

Price gouging laws go into effect when the Governor declares a state of emergency. Any price that is 25% or more above the average price charged in the same area within the last 30 days is considered price gouging.

The penalty is $1,000 per violation and the possibility of being prohibited from doing business in Alabama. Many customers have already said they won't be giving United Propane any more of their business, regardless of consequence from the State.

George Montgomery of Athens said he signed a contract guaranteeing him a price of less than $2 a gallon for propane. However, according to him, they filled his tank without his permission and left him with a bill for double the contracted price. A spokesperson with the company yesterday said those people would be given credit back into their account, but Montgomery said that's not what he was told. He said he was instructed to look at paragraph five in his contract.

It says the company can disregard contracted agreements in the case of an emergency or something out of their control. Something like what's happening nationally: a propane shortage.

According to WAFF Legal Analyst Mark McDaniel, not only is the paragraph legal, it is in fact standard. In certain circumstances, however, a judge could see it in a different light.

"If a clause is too unfair, too one-sided to be upheld in court, then the court will rule for the consumer," McDaniel said. "If the court says 'wait a minute, this was in there, you read it, or you should have read it, and if there is an act of war or a state of emergency, if there is a break in supply, then you have to pay what the company pays for it and they're not bound by the pre-paid price."

McDaniel said it would take a heavy push from a large amount of consumers. George Montgomery has already started doing just that.

Attorney General Strange urges consumers and officials to report any problems of illegal price gouging to his office of Consumer Protection by calling toll-free 1-800-392-5658, by writing to 501 Washington Avenue, Montgomery, Alabama, 36130, or through the Attorney General's web page.

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