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Fuel prices stall in January, but 14p difference between cheapest and most expensive supermarket prices

Updated: Feb 7

Despite a three-month period of declining fuel prices, RAC Fuel Watch data reveals a standstill in pump prices, alongside a startling 14p per litre disparity in supermarket petrol prices across the UK.

January's figures show the average price for a litre of unleaded petrol remained at 140.5p, and diesel at 148.5p, translating to full tanks costing £77.24 and £81.73 respectively. However, the picture changes dramatically when looking at regional variations and specific retailers.

Northern Ireland emerges as a bastion of lower prices, with petrol costing 4.2p less than the UK average at 136.2p per litre and diesel 3.5p lower at 144.9p by January's end. This regional price advantage starkly contrasts with the national average, highlighting inconsistencies in fuel pricing that disadvantage many UK drivers.

Costco and independent retailers like Grindley Brook in Whitchurch, Shropshire, underscore this inconsistency by offering fuel at considerably lower prices than the national average—130p for petrol and 139.6p for diesel at Costco, and 133.9p for petrol at Grindley Brook. Such competitive pricing has influenced nearby retailers to adjust their prices accordingly, further illustrating the uneven fuel pricing landscape across the country.

An analysis by the RAC of the 'big four' supermarkets—key players in UK fuel retail—under the Government’s voluntary price reporting scheme, revealed significant price disparities even within single chains. On 31 January, the difference between the cheapest and most expensive supermarket petrol reached 14p per litre, with Sainsbury’s offering the lowest price at 131.9p in locations like Wantage, Oxfordshire, and Cwmbran, Wales, while Morrisons' highest was 145.9p in Bude, Cornwall, and in Fakenham and Diss in Norfolk. Tesco displayed the smallest price gap at 8p between its cheapest and most expensive petrol.

Diesel prices mirrored this trend, with more than a 14p per litre difference observed across Sainsbury’s locations, highlighting an average 11.3p spread between high and low prices at supermarket forecourts.

This pricing landscape coincided with a rise in wholesale fuel prices, which saw an increase of 3p for petrol and 4p for diesel in January, driven by oil prices breaching the $80 mark for the first time since November.

The RAC's findings illuminate a 'postcode lottery' for UK drivers, with fuel prices varying significantly based on location and retailer. This disparity raises questions about the fairness of fuel pricing across the country and the economic pressures on drivers, especially those in regions with higher-than-average prices. As drivers navigate this uneven terrain, the call for more transparent and equitable pricing practices grows louder, urging retailers and policymakers to address the disparities that impact millions of UK motorists.

RAC fuel spokesman, Simon Williams, said: “While petrol is at its lowest point for well over two years, January unfortunately brought an end to three consecutive months of falling prices at the pumps.

“It is still concerning to see that fuel remains considerably cheaper in Northern Ireland and that the supermarkets are charging wildly different prices for identical petrol and diesel at different locations around the UK.

“The data retailers are voluntarily providing to the Competition and Markets Authority has shed a whole new light on the pump price postcode lottery. It seems blatantly wrong to us that the very same petrol or diesel can vary in price by as much as 14p a litre, depending on where drivers are filling up.

“Hopefully this will be addressed by the new price monitoring body recommended in the CMA’s report when it’s eventually set up, along with ‘rocket and feather’ pricing where retailers are too slow at passing on the savings from lower wholesale prices to their forecourts. We really can’t afford to have a repeat of 2022 where the CMA concluded drivers had been overcharged by major retailers to the tune of £900m. The question is how soon such a body is realistically going to be established, especially with a General Election on the horizon.

“Despite the attacks on tankers in the Red Sea the oil market appears relatively stable on the back of weaker global demand. Positively for drivers, analysts aren’t forecasting much short-term change from the current barrel price of $82.

“Interestingly, the recent rise in the price of a barrel has had the effect of squeezing bloated supermarket margins by around 3p a litre. This means drivers are now getting a slightly fairer deal when they fill up, but the big question is whether they will be content to operate at this level or whether they will look to get back to an average margin of around 10p, which is in stark contrast to the 3.5p they made on a litre in 2019.”


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