Fuel thefts at gas stations have hit record highs as gasoline prices hit new highs, even as wholesale prices have been falling for more than two weeks.
As the cost-of-living crisis continues to hit people’s wallets, the number of drive-away incidents — where drivers fill up and drive away without paying — has risen by 61 percent.
Petrol Retailers Association (PRA) chief Gordon Balmer says theft is “through the roof” with “10 incidents a day” being reported.
He said if this continues, UK petrol stations will lose £25million over the next year.
Mr Balmer says incidents of drivers claiming they are unable to pay for the fuel they have already put in their vehicle, using excuses such as forgetting their wallet, have also increased, affecting the £16million sector will cost per year.
It comes as the RAC and AA motoring associations demanded answers as to why petrol prices at retailers continue to rise even as wholesale prices have fallen over the past 16 days.
The organizations said drivers had a “right to know” why, while the RAC said there was “absolutely no rhyme or reason” to explain why falling prices have not been passed on to customers.
Fuel prices have risen to new record highs, with this Reading Services BP station charging 205.9p for a liter of fuel
The RAC said wholesale petrol prices hit a peak average of 181.41p for the week commencing 6 June and since then those prices have fallen to 176.03 pence for the week commencing 20 June.
While those prices have fallen, 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.
The average price for diesel was 199.0p a liter, a fraction of a penny below Saturday’s record of 199.1p a liter.
As prices rise, the boss of a gas station company says there has been “a huge increase in employee abuse” at the gas stations.
Darren Briggs, CEO of the Ascona Group, which owns 59 petrol stations in the UK, said: “We get reports pretty much every week of customers being quite abusive because of what they see on the mast sign.”
“It’s difficult out there to explain to customers how the market works.”
The price differentials at the wholesale and forecourt levels have led to calls for answers from the RAC RAC and AA, who have spoken out about the “unexplainable” discrepancy between the two.
The latest wholesale and retail gasoline prices according to RAC’s Fuel Watch. Despite falling wholesale prices in recent weeks, costs at the pump have continued to rise
RAC fuel prices spokesman Simon Williams said: “Inexplicably, fuel prices rose again yesterday.
“We see absolutely no point or reason why average forecourt prices are still going up considering wholesale prices for both fuels have been falling for weeks.
“Drivers across the country have a right to know why they have to pay for fuel, which they are, when the cost to retailers is so much lower right now than it was a few weeks ago.”
Mr Briggs acknowledged that “fuel prices have gone through the roof” but stressed that there was “huge volatility in the market” meaning pump prices are largely dependent on when retailers buy new supplies.
The Ascona Group needs a profit margin of “at least 9p a liter” to cover costs like wages and utility bills, but over the past two months it’s been “happy to make 7p a liter,” he said.
Mr Balmer said: “We are making very, very little returns as we struggle with high fuel prices.”
He insisted all retailers had passed on the 5p per liter fuel tax cut introduced by the Treasury in March.
He added: “You’re looking at almost £41million in costs to the industry for fuel that’s either stolen through drive-offs or people don’t have the means to pay.
“It’s a really tough issue right now, and it’s growing.”
Asked if the retailers are getting enough support from the police, he said: “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 deal 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 Home Office.”
Earlier this month, the Competition and Markets Authority launched a “brief and focused review” of how much drivers are being charged for fuel, at the request of Business Minister Kwasi Kwarteng.
The RAC says motorists have a ‘right to know’ why prices continue to rise in the current environment (stock image)
Chancellor Rishi Sunak told MPs on Tuesday he would carefully consider calls for a “more substantial” fuel tax cut.
Amid concerns the previous reduction for hard-pressed drivers “didn’t really touch the pages”, he said he would take the recommendations “under deliberation” if they were challenged in the Commons.
Mr Williams said a cut in pump prices “really can’t come soon enough”.
He continued: “If the Chancellor decides on another fuel tax cut, it is imperative that it is passed on in full by dealers immediately to give motorists a break from these historically high prices.
“It is also important for the government to monitor the wholesale market and closely examine retailers’ margins.”
Jack Cousens, head of road transport policy at the AA, said motorists were “taken for fools by retailers”.
He continued: “With the Prime Minister and Chancellor speaking openly about the prospect of further fuel tax cuts, drivers need to hear less talk and see more action.
“An additional 10p tax cut, which the AA called for weeks ago, will not only help ease pump pressure but also keep prices down in supermarket aisles.
“Until that happens, household budgets across the country will continue to be squeezed.”
Meanwhile, a Tesco petrol station which had been selling petrol at 168.9 litrespa – 20p cheaper than local rivals – today hiked its prices again.
Motorists rushed to a Tesco petrol station in Ely, Cambridgeshire, yesterday after word spread that prices had been cut.
There were queues of drivers at a Tesco petrol station in Ely in Cambridgeshire yesterday after petrol prices fell to 168.9p – well below the national average. But just 24 hours later, prices rose again
But this afternoon the price had been raised to 178.9p, disappointing many drivers.
Philip Hardy, from Cambridge, said: “I rushed to the petrol station when I heard how cheap the fuel was but was really upset when I saw the price had gone up.
“It was really good to see gas prices starting to fall, but it looks like it may have been a mistake.”
It comes as many fuel retailers face accusations of profiteering as gasoline prices hit new highs despite falling wholesale costs.
Fuel prices have been pushed up by the war in Ukraine and moves to reduce Europe’s dependence on Russian oil. The cost of filling a family car is now more than £100.