Fuel thefts from filling stations have rocketed to record levels as pump prices continue to climb.
Drive-off incidents where motorists fill up and leave without paying have jumped 61% in the last year, according to the Petrol Retailers Association (PRA).
PRA executive director Gordon Balmer said the number of thefts was “going through the roof” and if they continued at this rate for the next 12 months retailers would lose £25 million.
The jump in thefts comes as motorists face record petrol prices and the AA claimed drivers are “being taken for fools by retailers” as prices continue to climb despite a fall in wholesale fuel costs.
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Mr Bulmer said PRA members were reporting 10 drive-off incidents per day, as well as an increase in drivers unable to pay for the fuel they’ve taken.
He said: “You’re looking at nearly £41 million in terms of cost to industry of fuel either being stolen through drive-offs or people haven’t got the means to pay.
“It’s a really difficult issue at the moment, and on the increase.”
Asked whether retailers are receiving enough support from the police, he said: “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 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.”
Figures from data firm Experian show the average price of a litre of petrol at UK forecourts reached a new high of 191.2p on Tuesday while the average price of diesel was 199.0p per litre, a fraction of a penny below the record of 199.1p per litre set on Saturday.
According to figures from the RAC, wholesale petrol prices paid by the retailers have been falling since the start of June. The wholesale price including delivery fell from 151.93p in the first week to 146.69p in the week beginning 24 June, while average pump prices rose from 173.26p to 189.37p.
The RAC’s Simon Williams said: “Our analysis shows the average cost of a litre of petrol is considerably overpriced. Drivers really should be paying around 186p per litre – five pence less than they are today – if wholesale prices were being reflected fairly at the pumps.”
In the face of rising costs, retailers have reported a surge in verbal abuse towards forecourt staff.
Darren Briggs, chief executive of Ascona Group, which owns 59 filling stations across the UK, said: “We’ve had a huge increase of staff abuse at forecourt level.
“We’re getting reports virtually every week of customers being quite abusive because of what they’re seeing at the pole sign.”
Mr Briggs acknowledged that “fuel prices have gone through the roof” but stressed there is “huge volatility in the market” which means pump prices are largely dependent on the timing of when retailers buy new supplies.
He said Ascona Group needs a profit margin of at least 9p per litre to cover costs such as wages and utility bills but in the past two months it has been “lucky to make 7p per litre.
Mr Balmer added that retailers were making “very, very thin returns” and insisted they had passed on the 5p per litre fuel duty cut to drivers.
The Competition and Markets Authority (CMA) is currently conducting an inquiry in the fuel prices amid claims that the fuel duty cut had not been passed on to customers.
Chancellor Rishi Sunak told MPs on Tuesday that he will carefully consider calls for a “more substantial” fuel duty cut.
Amid concerns the previous reduction “didn’t really touch the sides” for hard-pressed drivers, he said when challenged in the House of Commons that he will take the recommendations “under advisement”.