Fuel thefts from UK petrol stations have risen by almost two-thirds this year to record levels amid rising prices, an industry body has said.
The Petrol Retailers Association said drive-off incidents, in which a motorist fills up and fails to attempt to pay before leaving, are up 61% so far this year compared to the same period in 2021.
Gordon Balmer, the PRA’s executive director, said the number of thefts is “through the roof” with 10 incidents being reported a day and predicted retailers would lose £25million if the current rate of drive-offs hit the next would last 12 months.
Incidents of drivers saying they were unable to pay for the fuel they had already put in their vehicle, for example because they forgot their wallet, have also increased, amounting to an annual cost to the sector of 16 million pounds.
“You’re looking at almost £41million in costs to the industry from fuel that’s either stolen through car journeys or people don’t have the means to pay,” Balmer said. “It’s a really tough issue right now, and it’s growing.”
Asked if the retailers are getting enough support from the police, he replied: “Because of the pressure on the police in recent years, many police forces have said, ‘It’s not a criminal offence, it’s a civil offence, so you have to deal with it , and if the actual value of the crime is less than £100 we will not send anyone to the police. This was raised by me personally at the Ministry of the Interior.”
Operators said there had been a “huge rise” in verbal abuse of station staff by drivers who were angry at pump prices.
Darren Briggs, CEO of the Ascona Group, which owns 59 petrol stations across the UK, said: “We get reports pretty much every week of customers being quite abusive about what they see on the mast sign… It’s tough out there, um.” to explain to customers how the market works.”
Figures from data company Experian show that the average price of a liter of petrol at UK petrol stations hit a new high of 191.2p on Tuesday.
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The average price of diesel was 199p a liter, a fraction of a penny below Saturday’s record of 199.1p a liter. This has led automakers to blame retailers for refusing to pass on recent cuts in wholesale costs.
The RAC said there was “no rhyme or reason why average service station prices are still going up,” while the AA claimed drivers were “being duped by retailers.”
Briggs stressed that there was tremendous volatility in the market, meaning dispenser prices depended largely on when retailers bought new supplies.
The Ascona Group needed a profit margin of at least 9p a liter to cover costs like wages and utility bills, but over the last two months it had “been happy making 7p a liter,” he said.
He said all retailers had passed on the 5p per liter fuel tax cut introduced by the Treasury in March.
This month the Competition and Markets Authority launched a “brief and focused review” into how much drivers were being charged for fuel, following a request from Business Secretary Kwasi Kwarteng.
Chancellor Rishi Sunak told MPs on Tuesday that he would carefully consider calls for a bigger fuel tax cut.