You are all aware of the shortage of refills for Calor gas bottles, particularly in the last year. Calor has put the shortage down to record demand for cylinders due to lockdowns, warm weather, the boom in staycations, and the associated shortage of cylinders. Yet we also see that waterside Calor dealers have a stock of empty bottles that are not being collected. We are told of continuing concerns with the uncertainty of supply, and short or cancelled deliveries being the normal for some retailers. We don’t think that Calor is doing enough to use the available bottles in circulation, and it is abusing its self-created monopoly position on the inland waterways.
We have written to Calor asking them to prioritise the supply of bottled gas to inland waterway stockists, but they have chosen not to reply. We have therefore asked the Competitions and Markets Authority (CMA) to investigate Calor Gas, and its imposed dominance of the waterways market. Calor has an effective monopoly because many boaters do not have transport to find alternatives. The CMA has found it necessary to investigate Calor in the past.
In our contacts with members, we have found that refill availability is patchy around the country. In the South, there has been little problem, but the North West has seen widespread shortages, which continue. We see Calor advertising for filling and driving staff, so the company is obviously in some distress. More recently we have heard that:
- Contracts for new cylinder loans are not available.
- Users can no longer swap one type of bottle to another, only like-for-like refills.
- 6kg propane bottles (widely used in the caravan market) are becoming more available.
- Calor is not refilling. It is supplying the very small 4.5kg butane bottles for the foreseeable future. This may impact the small summer cruiser market.
Calor has recently announced a deal with the sports clothing retailer outlet, Go, for the return of unused cylinders, regardless of condition, for a shop credit of £10. We have tested this system and it works. If you have an old cylinder and no paperwork, it is a good way of getting it back into the system.
On price, we can see that costs are increasing. The current web price for 13kg propane is £39.99. With the world price rises of bulk gas, there is only one way this is going. So what are the alternatives? If you are a high-volume user for heating etc., and you have transport, it is certainly worth shopping around. Flogas has a good share of the market and there are many nationwide outlets. The other way to go is to get at least one bottle designed for user refilling. These have been unavailable, but they are coming back into retailers now that the caravan market is less buoyant. They are expensive to buy, but if you are using 13kg every month, the upfront cost is recovered very quickly. But you need an autogas outlet near to you, and transport to get to it.
Going forward, on current performance we cannot trust and support Calor as a sole supplier to the waterways. We encourage members to consider alternatives if your cruising patterns allow it. If you have, or have had, a problem with Calor, please write to the CMA. The more customer complaints that are made, the more likelihood is that it will act. And if you have a gas story to tell, please let us know.