Fuel thefts from British filling stations have shot up by nearly two-thirds this year to record levels amid soaring prices, an industry body has said.
The Petrol Retailers Association said drive-off incidents, where a motorist fills up and makes no attempt to pay before leaving, have increased by 61% so far this year compared with the same period in 2021.
Gordon Balmer, the PRA executive director, said the number of thefts were “going through the roof”, with 10 incidents a day being reported, and predicted retailers would lose £25m if the current rate of drive-offs continued for the next 12 months.
Incidents of drivers saying they were unable to pay for fuel they had already put in their vehicle, such as by forgetting their wallet, have also increased, reaching an annual cost to the sector of £16m.
“You’re looking at nearly £41m in terms of cost to industry of fuel either being stolen through drive-offs or people haven’t got the means to pay,” Balmer said. “It’s a really difficult issue at the moment, and on the increase.”
Asked whether retailers were receiving enough support from the police, he replied: “With the pressure on the police over the last few years, many police forces have said: ‘It’s not a criminal offence, it’s a civil offence, so you need to deal with it, and if the actual value of the crime is below £100 then we won’t send anyone out to police it.’ This has been raised by myself personally with the Home Office.”
Operators said there had been a “huge increase” in verbal abuse towards forecourt staff by drivers angry at pump prices.
Darren Briggs, the chief executive of Ascona Group, which owns 59 filling stations across the UK, said: “We’re getting reports virtually every week of customers being quite abusive because of what they’re seeing at the pole sign … It is tough out there to explain to customers how the market operates.”
Figures from the data firm Experian show the average price of a litre of petrol at UK forecourts reached a new high of 191.2p on Tuesday.
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The average price of diesel was 199p a litre, a fraction of a penny below the record of 199.1p per litre set on Saturday. This led motoring groups to accuse retailers of refusing to pass on recent decreases in wholesale costs.
The RAC said there was “no rhyme or reason why average forecourt prices are still going up”, while the AA claimed drivers were “being taken for fools by retailers”.
Briggs emphasised there was huge volatility in the market, which meant pump prices were largely dependent on the timing of when retailers bought new supplies.
Ascona Group needed a profit margin of at least 9p a litre to cover costs such as wages and utility bills but in the past two months it had been “lucky to make 7p per litre”, he said.
He said all retailers had passed on the 5p-a-litre cut in fuel duty implemented by the Treasury in March.
This month, the Competition and Markets Authority launched a “short and focused review” of how much drivers were being charged for fuel after a request by the business secretary, Kwasi Kwarteng.
The chancellor, Rishi Sunak, told MPs on Tuesday that he would carefully consider calls for a more substantial fuel duty cut.