Charity is ‘frozen out’

A STANNINGTON-BASED charity has complained of being frozen out over a six week period because of the sharp rise in heating oil costs.

Evening events had to be cancelled at the Toby Henderson Trust between early December and mid-January as it could not afford the oil — prices soared by more than 20p per litre between November and December.

With support from families who use the facilities, located at Whitehouse Farm Centre, after it launched a ‘Pledge a Pound’ collection, the charity eventually paid for it.

But staff are angry with the way they have been treated by providers and the charging system.

The trust provides vital support services to children and young adults who suffer from autism, as well as their families. It was founded by Lesley Henderson, whose youngest son Toby was diagnosed with autism nine years ago.

“We had to bite the bullet and pay the ridiculous price for the heating oil,” she said.

“As well as the costs going up steeply, we feel suppliers are very much taking advantage of our vulnerability.

“One actually raised the price per litre by 5p in the space of hours when we called back to place an order and if the price goes up before the oil is delivered you have to pay the increase, but if it drops this is not passed on to the customer.

“We are in an old building over two floors so it was absolutely freezing, we brought in portable heaters but they were very limited.

“Many of the events and sessions we run in the evenings had to be cancelled because it was too cold and the boiler was off so long that it had to be fixed.

“We are grateful to all those who have chipped in to help us with this — more than £135 has been raised so far.”

Meanwhile, Northumberland MP Guy Opperman’s investigation into what he believes is a lack of heating oil providers has won support from Charles Hendry, Minister of State for the Department of Energy and Climate Change.

The Minister expressed his own worries about the “fact that quite a number of suppliers are owned by one individual company” and he has now written to the Office of Fair Trading (OFT) to formally ask it to look into the issues.

Mr Opperman, MP for Hexham, focused on the biggest supplier of heating oil DCC Energy, an Irish company that has a quarter of the national market for domestic heating oil.

A spokesman for DCC Energy said: “We welcome the independent study the minister proposes and will co-operate fully with the OFT during the process from both a company perspective and through our industry body, the Federation of Petroleum Suppliers.”