Fuel theft in the UK is expected to rise as the average price for filling up a family car reached £100 on Thursday.
The latest research by the British Oil Security Syndicate (Boss) showed a 14.6 per cent increase in the number of incidents in which people did not pay for fuel during the first quarter of 2022, compared to the last quarter of 2021.
Claire Nichol, executive director at Boss, predicts theft will continue to increase due to rising prices.
“If the current trend continues, we expect to see losses from forecourt fuel crime soaring above £100 million per annum,” she said.
“When prices began to rise during early spring, we saw an unusual spike in incident reports.
“Overall reported incidents are 37 per cent higher in Q1 2022 than they were in Q1 2021.
“Yet again, more motorists are claiming to have no means to pay for fuel. It is more than an occasional excuse and is by far the largest type of unpaid fuel incident being reported to Boss. Drive-Off incidents are also rising, up nearly 50 per cent during the last 12 months.”
The overall cost to the industry of drivers making off without paying is estimated to be in excess of £100 million, up from £88m in 2019.
Drivers who fail to pay for fuel can be charged with theft, which carries a maximum sentence of two years in prison and an unlimited fine.
However, figures obtained by Crown Oil revealed 99 per cent of these crimes do not result in a prosecution.
Pressure on the government is building to cut the fuel duty again after the price spike on Thursday.
Motoring organisation the Automobile Association declared “enough is enough” while the Royal Automobile Club said it was “a truly dark day” for drivers.
Figures from data firm Experian show the average price of a litre of petrol at UK forecourts reached a record 182.3p on Wednesday.
That means the average cost of filling a 55-litre family car is £100.27.
The average price of a litre of diesel on Wednesday hit 188.1p.
Edmund King, president of the Automobile Association, has demanded a 10p per litre cut in the fuel duty and called for a fuel price stabiliser to lower the duty when pump prices rise and increase it when prices drop.
“Enough is enough. The government must act urgently to reduce the record fuel prices which are crippling the lives of those on lower incomes, rural areas and businesses,” he said.
“A fuel price stabiliser is a fair means for the Treasury to help regulate the pump price, but alongside this, they need to bring in more fuel price transparency to stop the daily rip-offs at the pumps.
“The £100 tank is not sustainable with the general cost-of-living crisis, so the underlying issues need to be addressed urgently.”
Royal Automobile Club fuel spokesman Simon Williams said the 5p duty cut enacted in March “looks paltry” as wholesale petrol costs have increased by five times that amount since.
“A further duty cut or a temporary reduction in VAT would go a long way towards helping drivers, especially those on lower incomes who have no choice other than to drive,” he said.
But Prime Minister Boris Johnson has ruled out further cuts.
“We made a cut already … the biggest cut ever in fuel duty,” he said.
“What I want to see is those cuts in taxation not just swallowed up in one gulp, without touching the gullet of the fuel companies. I want to see those cuts having an impact on the pumps.
“And we are watching very closely to see what happens.”
Mr Johnson said many companies “don’t want to just take profit — they do have a sense of responsibility, but we need to see it”.
Downing Street indicated on Wednesday that fuel retailers failing to pass on the 5p duty cut could be named and shamed.
On Thursday, many forecourts were selling petrol and diesel above £2 per litre.
Price comparison website PetrolPrices reported that about 50 sites on UK motorways or major A roads are charging 202.9p per litre.
Pump prices began to soar after Russia’s invasion of Ukraine in February led to oil supply fears.