drive off range rover

A dramatic rise in the theft of petrol and diesel from garage forecourts has been reported by the RAC Foundation, and follows data released by the British Oil Security Syndicate (BOSS), last month, which revealed that incidents of unpaid fuel had reached their highest level since 2015.

In response to a Freedom of Information request made by the RAC Foundation, the DVLA revealed that in the third quarter (July – September) of 2023, it received 39,563 requests for vehicle keeper data in relation to fuel theft. The figures represent a 77% rise compared to the 22,335 requests received in the same quarter in 2022; and 362% higher than the 8,558 requests the DVLA dealt with in in the same quarter in 2019, before the Covid pandemic.

The RAC Foundation reports that the majority of these thefts are likely to be related to drive-offs (where people fill up their tanks on the forecourt with no intention of paying before they leave), as opposed to ‘no means of payment events’ where drivers refuel but then realise they can’t pay - they may have forgotten their wallets etc - and will be given time to pay what they owe.

Figures from BOSS revealed that the average annual financial loss caused by fuel theft is £10,500 per site.

The maximum penalty for those found guilty of Making Off Without Payment, an offence under the Theft Act 1978, is two years in prison and/or an unlimited fine.

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