Updated: Nov 18
The theft of petrol and diesel from garage forecourts has experienced a dramatic increase in recent times, according to recent data.
In response to a Freedom of Information request made by the RAC Foundation, the DVLA (Driver and Vehicle Licensing Agency) has revealed eye-opening statistics regarding fuel theft incidents.
During the third quarter of 2023 (July-September), the DVLA received a staggering 39,563 requests for vehicle keeper data linked to fuel theft. This figure represents a substantial 77% surge compared to the 22,335 requests received during the same quarter in 2022. Moreover, it marks a staggering 362% increase from the 8,558 requests dealt with in the third quarter of 2019, prior to the Covid-19 pandemic.
Most of these thefts are believed to be connected to "drive-offs", in which individuals fill up their vehicles with fuel before promptly leaving the forecourt without any intention of paying. This unlawful practice, commonly referred to as 'bilking', poses a significant challenge for forecourt operators who face increasing financial losses.
It is worth noting that 'drive-offs' differ from 'no means of payment events', where drivers accidentally find themselves unable to pay after refuelling due to genuine errors, such as forgetting their wallets or purses. In such cases, responsible drivers typically notify the forecourt staff, who generally afford them the opportunity to settle their dues within a given timeframe.
The British Oil Security Syndicate (BOSS), an organisation dedicated to combating fuel crime, has reported that the average annual financial loss incurred by fuel theft amounts to £10,500 per site. These alarming figures highlight the pressing need for measures to tackle this issue promptly and effectively.
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.”