Nearly half a billion fewer litres of petrol and diesel were sold between April and June than during the same period last year, according to new figures from the Department of Energy and Climate Change.

The fall came after sales rose at the start of the year when the threat of a tanker drivers’ strike triggered panic buying.

The government figures show that more than 2 billion fewer litres of petrol and diesel were sold compared with the same period in 2008.

In the first half of this year, a total of 16.7 billion litres of fuel was sold. This compares with total sales of nearly 19 billion litres between January and June 2008.

Motoring organisation the AA said that ever-increasing prices in recent years have sent petrol sales into steady decline and the panic buying at the end of March may have brought forward sales in early April.

Wet weather may also have played a part, it added, whil pointing out that petrol prices slumped more than 10ppl between mid April and the end of June, and UK drivers began to travel further with lighter evenings, bank holidays and the Queen’s diamond jubilee celebrations.

Edmund King, AA president, said: “A 10.6% fall in petrol sales this past quarter is a huge drop. While we welcome the fact that new cars have become more fuel efficient, this goes nowhere near to accounting for the crash in demand over the past three months and the past five years.

“A fall of 2.27 billion litres in UK fuel sales over the first six months of this year compared to the same period in 2008 has got to bring some sense of reality to the fuel market and government.”

Meanwhile FairFuelUK has reiterated its call that the Government should recognise that by sensibly controlling fuel duty, it should be a growth stimulus not a Treasury cash cow. The reduced sales at the pumps is said to have cost the Treasury £1.3 billion in lost fuel duty.

Quentin Willson, national spokesman for FairFuelUK said, ’When we see a fall in fuel sales in a single quarter of an unprecedented 10% this tells us two very alarming things: Firstly, petrol and diesel has become unaffordable for a very significant amount of UK consumers, and secondly if those people aren’t driving they’re reducing their spending activity by a broadly similar percentage. This historic 10% fall in fuel sales is a telling indicator that high fuel costs are reducing the disposable income of millions of families and businesses across the country.’

Howard Cox from FairFuelUK said: ’We have repeatedly shown that a reduction in fuel duty would result in the creation of thousands of jobs and such a reduction would not result in any fiscal loss to the Government, while GDP would receive a boost too. Today’s reported loss of revenue from reduced fuel consumption shows that the incredibly high prices at the pumps are self-defeating in terms of tax revenue for the treasury. With 60% of these high prices going in tax, the Government can really make a difference by getting the UK economy motoring, simply by cutting the duty now! The French have done it, so why can’t we?’.

FairFuelUK is calling for real transparency in the pricing of petrol and diesel with its support for Robert Halfon MP’s bill to show the complete tax breakdown on all till receipts at the forecourts.