Customers who use oil to heat their homes and businesses are being warned to prepare for 'one of the coldest winters for more than a decade'.

The Federation of Petroleum Suppliers (FPS), the trade association for the oil distribution industry, is urging homeowners and businesses who use oil for heating to stock up on heating oil before temperatures drop, which forecasters have warned could begin by early November.

The Met Office has already briefed the government to prepare for a colder than average winter, with temperatures expected to drop significantly at the end of November, at which time ice and frost are likely to cause transport problems and there will be a significant risk of heavy snow. Oil distributors across the country are urging their customers to check their oil levels and oil tanks, so as not to be caught out by the bad weather.

Chief executive of the FPS, Mark Askew, said: "We launched a buy oil early campaign in September in association with the government and consumer agencies, Action with Communities in Rural England (ACRE), Citizens Advice Bureau and Consumer Focus, but many people still haven’t heeded our advice. We are urging people not to leave it to the last minute when the bad weather has taken hold and tanker drivers struggle to get through on roads covered in snow or ice.

"Our members remind customers that they should order early, but people have got into a pattern of ordering the minimum quantity. Customers have had a trend of ordering 500 litres and then running out in the middle of the worst weather, when tanker drivers just can't get to them. We are trying to educate people to think ahead and be prepared.

"In winter, the UK can also experience shortages of heating oil at terminals. Demand is obviously governed by the weather and a prolonged cold snap, such as the Met Office is forecasting, means that the terminals are unable to provide product quickly enough and consumers can run out while waiting for deliveries as distributors have to go further afield to get supplies."