The PRA has rebuffed calls by a Member of the Local Assembly (MLA) for petrol retailers in Northern Ireland to install pre-payment pumps to stop drive-offs.

Upper Bann MLA Doug Beattie said already-stretched police resources were being dedicated to tracking down individuals who drive off without paying for their fuel, and claimed there was “an easy solution to the problem” which would leave officers free to “be out meeting the real policing challenges that affect all our communities.”

PRA chairman Brian Madderson described Beattie’s proposal as “absolutely a non-runner”, adding: “Many of these are family businesses that are fighting to survive and the only thing that keeps many of them going is the shops. Asking customers to pre-pay is not a business model that works for them.

“The pre-pay model simply doesn’t work as it would significantly detract from the number of customers using the shops.”

In July 2016 the Police Service of Northern Ireland (PSNI) faced a storm of criticism after it sent letters to filling stations in two districts – Lisburn and Castlereagh, and Ards and North Down – informing them they would be responsible for tracing drivers who do not pay.

The level of opposition forced the PSNI to back down and it announced it had “postponed” the scheme and that it would “discuss and review the introduction of this pilot project”.

Madderson said there were now fears that the PSNI would try to reintroduce the scheme across all six counties of Northern Ireland, possibly as early as Easter, and the MLA’s intervention might be linked to this.

However, he said there were other politicians such as Ian Paisley who were staunchly opposed to the move.