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Petrol pinchers: Surge in fuel theft could lead to higher pump prices

Petrol pinchers: Surge in fuel theft could lead to higher pump prices
Matt Browning
Written By:
Matt Browning

The number of criminals stealing fuel from petrol stations between July and September rose by 77% this year, research reveals.

In the third quarter of 2023, the DVLA received 39,563 requests for vehicle keeper data in relation to fuel theft – a huge rise from 22,335 at the same time in 2022.

The data comes as part of a freedom of information (FOI) request made by the RAC Foundation, which found 362% more incidents occurred this year than before the pandemic, in 2019.

In most cases of petrol or diesel theft, drivers would fill up their tanks and leave without paying – known as ‘bilking’.

This illegal activity hits each garage in the UK by an average of £10,500 per year according to the British Oil Security Syndicate – a company which campaigns to keep petrol stations crime free zones.

Motorists found guilty of intentionally driving away without paying for their petrol could face a maximum of two years in prison and/ or an unlimited fine.

Meanwhile, there is concern in the motor industry that the cost-of-living crisis will prolong the issue of ‘bilking’ in the UK, which could even lead to a hike in prices at the pump.

Petrol theft is a ‘big and growing problem’

Steve Gooding, director of the RAC Foundation, said: “Amongst all the recent media attention given to the epidemic of shoplifting, it should probably come as no surprise to find that the theft of petrol and diesel from forecourts looks to be a big and growing problem, and these figures might only hint at a much bigger issue.

“While it may be that the cost-of-living crisis is tempting some people to risk driving off without paying, the real headache for fuel suppliers is if this is a sign of more systematic criminal activity.

“The message to anyone tempted to bilk the service station must be ‘don’t fill up if you can’t pay up’ because getting caught is a real possibility, and financial losses to companies ultimately lead to higher prices for us all.”