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04.09.12 Howard County Settles With Propane Supplier Over Fee Dispute

April 9, 2012

Media Contacts: Kevin Enright, Director, Office of Public Information, 410-313-2022
Rebecca Bowman, Administrator, Office of Consumer Affairs, 410-313-6420

Howard County Settles With Propane Supplier Over Fee Dispute

ELLICOTT CITY, MD – Howard County Executive Ken Ulman announced today that the County’s Office of Consumer Affairs has entered into an Assurance of Discontinuance and Compliance with Inergy Propane, LLC t/a United Propane of Millersville, Maryland.

The Office of Consumer Affairs alleged that United Propane charged its customers who terminated service a “final processing fee” that had not previously been disclosed to them. Thirty-nine Howard County consumers paid the fee – which ranged from $12.59 to $250 – during 2010 and 2011. Under the terms of the Assurance, United Propane, who denies any violation of the law, will refund a total of $2,783.01 by April 30, 2012, to consumers who paid the fee. United Propane has since stated that it discontinued charging the “final processing fee” in 2012.

“Consumers deserve to be told exactly how much products and services will cost before committing to a purchase,” said Executive Ulman. Rebecca Bowman, Administrator of the Office of Consumer Affairs, agrees, “Failure to provide information about add-on fees makes it impossible for consumers to compare prices among merchants and make smart purchasing decisions. In addition to harming consumers, undisclosed add-on fees also create an unlevel playing field for competitor merchants.”

In addition to paying restitution, the County’s settlement provides that United Propane will: disclose, in writing, the price of all goods and services, including all fees, to Howard County consumers prior to execution of contracts; and honor all quoted prices for the duration of the contract term.

The Office of Consumer Affairs launched its investigation after receiving a complaint from a Jessup resident who questioned various fees she was charged when she terminated her service with United Propane. When the Office found that the resident had not been previously advised of the “final processing fee,” the Office broadened its inquiry to include all Howard County residents who were charged the fee.

Any consumer who paid a final processing fee in 2010 or 2011 and who does not receive a refund from United Propane by April 30, 2012, is asked to contact the Office of Consumer Affairs at 410-313-6420 or consumer@howardcountymd.gov.