Rising petrol prices have led to an increase in the number of drivers trying to drive off without paying, with forecourts facing up to 3,000 attempted thefts a month on average, figures from industry experts show.
As the cost of filling up has soared in recent weeks, so has the number of incidents where motorists have either driven away without paying or claimed to have no means of payment.
Figures from Forecourt Eye, a company that collects payments on behalf of about 1,000 garages around the UK, show there was a 39% increase in reports of non-payment between January and May this year.
The company’s chief executive, Nick Fisher, said there were up to 3,000 attempted thefts a month at the sites where it works.
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The British Oil Security Syndicate (Boss), another organisation that pursues debts for petrol retailers, said attempted thefts soared by 22% in the first week of June, compared with the same period in May.
Claire Nichol, the executive director of Boss, said: “There is no doubt that there is a link between rising fuel prices and increased incidents of forecourt fuel crime.”
Luke Bosdet, a spokesperson for the AA, said: “When pump prices reach record levels, stealing fuel from cars and forecourts draws two types of thief: the desperate and the organised.
“Some fuel is stolen because the thief is someone who relies on their car, motorbike or scooter to get to or go about their work but their finances have been broken by the cost of living crisis. Stealing fuel then becomes an act of desperation. And then you have the organised thieves who see the high price of an essential item as highly lucrative and easily sold on.”
Forecourt Eye and Boss said more drivers were claiming to have forgotten their wallets than just driving off without paying, a shift away from what was previously a roughly 50-50 split.
The average cost of filling a typical family car with petrol hit more than £100 for the first time this week, on what experts called a “truly dark day” for UK drivers. Figures from the RAC showed the average price of a litre of petrol reached a record 183.16p on Thursday, taking the average cost of filling a 55-litre family car to £101.06.
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Alongside soaring fuel prices, consumers are facing a wider cost of living crisis, with rising energy and food bills also putting pressure on budgets.
Rishi Sunak introduced a 5p fuel duty cut in March’s spring statement to help bring costs down, but some campaigners have claimed the reduction is not being passed on at the pumps.
The RAC’s fuel spokesperson, Simon Williams, accused the government of being “fixated on ensuring retailers are passing on March’s 5p duty cut fully”, claiming this was “ignoring the fact that wholesale costs of fuel have absolutely rocketed since then”.
This article was amended on 12 June 2022. An earlier version reported Nick Fisher of Forecourt Eye saying there were “up to 3,000 attempted thefts a day at the sites where it works”. In fact the figure he gave was 3,000 attempted thefts a month. The headline and text have been amended to reflect this.