The PRA is pushing the government to help stem the soaring crime rates on forecourts during the pandemic as thieves use face masks to prevent identification.

Amid reports of a 37% increase in the number of drive-offs and no means to pay for fuel - with many perpetrators wearing protective face masks - PRA chairman Brian Madderson wants the government to force the Driving and Vehicle Licensing Agency (DVLA) to take action and update its “antiquated and time-consuming system” which is currently leaving retailers more or less powerless to pursue offenders.

“We’ve made several good suggestions to the DVLA over the years which have all been rejected,” explained Madderson. “It’s unbelievable how difficult and intransigent the DVLA has become in all this. It insists on using the post and won’t even agree to using email. The danger with the system is that it’s so slow, some retailers can’t be bothered. Currently crime on forecourts has increased considerably with youths wearing face masks, thinking they’re unrecognisable by CCTV. They’re short of money because they’ve been made redundant, there’s no work for them and may not be able to claim benefits because they’re not visible to the government.

“However we’re hopeful, following a webinar organised by the National Retail Crime Senior Steering Group (NRCSSG), that Kit Malthouse, Minister of State for Crime, Policing and the Fire Service will get something done for us.”

In the meantime Madderson has been waiting for a response from a letter he wrote recently to Priti Patel, Secretary of State for the Home Department

In the letter he said estimates of the cost of forecourt crime to the sector varied between £30 and £100 million a year, and that “it is now well documented that the police do not have the resources to attend forecourt crime or any low-level retail theft under £100”.

Madderson wrote: “In addition, the police have publicly stated in the media that they will not attend fuel theft incidents unless an act of assault or violence has taken place, and this has been the experience on the ground with the majority of our members. Furthermore, the police record these crimes as civil not criminal matters…

“Therefore, our members are forced to treat drive offs as a ‘civil’ offence for which they need to obtain vehicle keeper details from the DVLA to pursue offenders through the civil courts and deter crime against their businesses this way. This makes the DVLA’s help and support crucial. Regrettably, the process to obtain these details is an antiquated, time-consuming and painfully slow paper-based system, involving convoluted forms, postal orders and a lengthy turnaround time often as long as six weeks.”

Madderson said that for the past three years, the PRA had been trying to engage with the DVLA to modernise this system, even offering industry assistance in setting up a secure, streamlined online system with digital payment options, and this offer remained open.

“However, the DVLA has not taken this up and instead we have been told by DVLA technical staff that we will need to wait until at least 2022 for such a system to be operationalm,” he said. “This is a ludicrous proposition for a government agency in the 21st century.

“It goes to show that six years on from a Department for Transport review, and four years on from the DVLA’s own corporate report, the DVLA is failing miserably in delivering the acceleration and expansion of its ‘digital transformation’ and the reduction in the burden of its requirements on businesses that it had committed to…”

Madderson concluded the letter by saying: “We can provide chapter and verse on the saga that we have had to endure with the DVLA in trying to seek meaningful change on behalf of our members and would be happy to do so.

“However, what’s needed now is your direct intervention to force the DVLA to seek practical solutions to the present crisis that their refusal to change has created and to help protect our forecourts from criminality…”.