Surge in number of drivers stealing fuel

Person holding a diesel pump at a forecourt

Each forecourt loses £10,500 per year in fuel thefts

According to new data, the number of fuel thefts from British petrol stations has risen sharply. 

Thefts up 77% according to RAC 

In response to a Freedom of Information request made by the RAC Foundation, the DVLA has revealed that between July and September 2023 it received 39,563 requests for vehicle keeper data in relation to fuel theft. 

This is 77% higher than the 22,335 requests made during the same months of the previous year. Going back further, it’s a 382% increase on the 8,558 requests made during the same time period in 2019 before the pandemic. 

Petrol station losses

Most fuel thefts involve people driving off without paying, also known as ‘bilking’. Drivers fill up their car on the forecourt without any intention of paying for their fuel and then drive away.  

According to figures from the British Oil Security Syndicate (BOSS), the average annual loss caused by fuel theft is £10,500 per site. The maximum penalty for making off without payment, which is an offence under the Theft Act 1978, is two years in prison and/or an unlimited fine. 

The second reason people leave without paying for fuel is having ‘no means of payment. This includes genuine errors where drivers refuel before realising they have forgotten to bring their wallet with them. 

In this case, drivers can simply tell the forecourt staff and they’ll be given a set amount of time to pay what they owe. 

Why has there been a surge in fuel theft? 

Steve Gooding, director of the RAC Foundation says: “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.” 

While it is true that cases of all kinds of shoplifting have gone up, Gooding emphasises the seriousness of stealing fuel from forecourts: 

“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.” 

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