UK petrol station drive-offs at record high amid cost-of-living crisis

Campaign group against forecourt crime says incidents of drivers not paying rose by 4.7 per cent in three months to June

Two-thirds of incidents involved drivers who said they would return to pay, but then did not, according to the index. PA
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Petrol station crime in the UK has hit its highest level since records began – with an increase of 4.7 per cent in the number of fuel thefts, say campaigners.

It comes as motorist were hit by one of the sharpest jumps in fuel prices in more than two decades last month, on top of a continuing cost-of-living crisis.

The British Oil Security Syndicate, a non-profit organisation that campaigns to reduce forecourt crime, began publishing figures in 2015.

Its Forecourt Crime Index shows a record increase in fuel theft crimes between April and June, compared to the previous quarter, taking it to its highest level.

It says culprits can be motorists driving off without trying to pay for their fuel, or those who agree to pay later but then do not return. The latter accounts for about two-thirds of the crime, said the syndicate.

The average quantity of fuel taken in drive-off incidents was 34.32 litres, compared to 33.96 litres in the previous three months.

In incidents where drivers said they could not pay and did not return later, the average quantity taken was 43.16 litres – up from 41.5 litres in the previous quarter.

Claire Nichol, executive director at Boss, said: “The Forecourt Crime Index is at record levels and demonstrates that incidents of unpaid fuel are continuing to grow.

“While No Means of Payment dominate incident reports, we consistently see around 80 per cent of motorists settling payments within a few days. This suggests that most incidents are genuine mistakes.

“However, we also know that a few motorists do take advantage of the good nature of forecourt retailers.

“We are seeing more retailers moving to online reporting of unpaid fuel incidents to Payment Watch, improving accuracy, efficiency and speeding up response times.

"In addition, by analysing incident reports nationally, we can highlight hotspots and identify vehicles that have been repeatedly involved in unpaid fuel incidents.”

Petrol prices in the UK have surged in recent weeks. Bloomberg

The average cost of filling a tank climbed by roughly £4 ($5.05) in August, with unleaded petrol rising by almost 7p a litre and diesel by 8p, the RAC motoring organisation said.

This increase could have been even higher had major retailers not allowed margins to return to more normal levels, it said.

Pump prices were driven up by the cost of oil as producer group Opec and allied countries have curbed output, the RAC said.

“August was a big shock to drivers as they had grown used to seeing far lower prices than last summer’s record highs,” RAC fuel spokesman Simon Williams said.

“Seeing £4 or more go on to the cost of a tank in the space of just a few weeks from a pump price rise of 6p to 7p a litre is galling, particularly for those who drive lots of miles or run an older, less fuel-efficient car.”

Updated: September 05, 2023, 5:15 PM