FAIRFIELD COUNTY, Conn. – Problems getting fuel, issues with home contractors and telemarketers caused the most Connecticut residents to complain last year, according to the state Department of Consumer Protection.
The DCP released its annual list of the top 10 types of complaints received in the past year, based on the more than 6,000 complaints the department took in during 2013. Fuel-related issues accounted for 17.5 percent of all complaints, making it the top category.
The fuel category includes issues with home heating service such as failed or late deliveries of home heating oil or propane, as in when Meriden’s Ace Oil shut down in October and sparked complaints about pre-paid contracts, the release said. Issues at the gas pump, such as faulty charging mechanisms or misleading signage also contributed to the category’s No. 1 ranking.
Complaints about contractors increased slightly from 2012 to make up 14.5 percent of the state’s problems last year, making it the No. 2 category on the department’s list. Common issues included unfinished work, improper contracts, damage to home or property, shoddy materials and non-return of deposit. Similarly, No. 5 on the list was home repair work by “occupational trades” such as plumbing, electricians and HVAC work, which accounted for 3.6 percent of complaints.
In both cases, officials recommend checking on a contractor’s license with the DCP before making any agreements, and making sure that all contracts are detailed and specific.
“We realize that sometimes even the most carefully planned and researched home improvement job will not go well, and we know that unforeseen business closings leave consumers in the lurch; we do our best to respond to those hard cases,” Commissioner William Rubenstein said in a press release. “Overall, however, the well-informed consumer is going to suffer fewer problems.”
Telemarketing held the third spot on the list, with about 7.6 percent of all complaints focused on direct calls. Most dealt with companies making calls to residents who had requested that they be placed on the national “Do Not Call” list. The DCP reprimands companies with Connecticut-based companies that ignore the list, but otherwise they need to refer such case to the Federal Trade Commission.
Other top-10 categories included: Retail stores (fourth, with 5 percent of complaints); real estate issues (sixth with 3.3 percent); restaurants (seventh with 2.3 percent); Internet retailers (eighth with 2 percent); auto dealers (ninth, 1.8 percent) and debt collectors (10th with less than a percent).
Along with penalizing companies based on complaints, the Department of Consumer Protection can also help repay customers who have been wronged through its “guaranty funds.” Last year, for example, the agency helped repay $2.27 million in lost payments via these accounts. Residents can find out how to file complaints and apply for restitution through the DCP’s Smart Consumer website.
“Consumers should contact us whenever they have a problem with a business that they cannot remedy themselves,” Rubenstein said. “Filing a written complaint not only will result in possible help for the consumer, but will also alert us to an issue or illegality that is likely to affect many other people, and needs immediate correction.”