Is the first drive-off really a freebie?

Happy New Year and all that. But some things just won’t go away.

Jay Patel got in touch from Scaynes Hill Service Station in West Sussex to draw my attention to Sussex Police’s decision to not regard drive-offs as crimes.

He says: "According to them the car has not been reported for a drive-off or a crime in the past so this drive-off is not a criminal matter." And he asks if this means that the onus is upon the retailer to prove that the drive-off was deliberate instead of the driver? Good question. And does it mean that the first drive-off is free for each car? Another good one.

He draws a comparison: "Since the supermarkets have self-check outs, is it okay to walk off without paying for an item?"

Jay says: "It takes the same amount of time posting a standard letter by the police to the registered keeper of the vehicle as sending an email to us. But the police want us to pay for the vehicle owner’s details from DVLA when they are readily available to them free of charge!

"The question is do the police have rights to treat a reported drive-off as not a criminal matter until it is proven otherwise!

"I would love to borrow the crystal ball they are using so that I can know the intention of a customer when he or she is filling up his or her vehicle at my site!"

As I said to Jay, I’m sure there isn’t a retailer in the land who would disagree with his sentiments. An ACS survey in 2017 of over 500 forecourt sites in the UK showed that fuel theft remains a persistent problem, with each store seeing an average of three or four incidents a week.

I did suggest to Jay that the debt recovery scheme Payment Watch from British Oil Security Syndicate (BOSS) claims great success in getting drive-off money back. Overall, surveyed retailers have recouped over 80% of initial losses, says BOSS.

Annual membership is £180 plus VAT per site per annum in full or by direct debit at £15 plus VAT per month after an initial payment of £60 plus VAT to cover the cost of set up administration and the first four months’ membership. With membership you get a Payment Watch pack that will save time and effort in chasing no means of payment debt. The scheme also identifies multiple offenders and seeks to prosecute. It also, says BOSS, deters professional criminals.

A bespoke job needs a bespoke fixer

In mid November Khalid Mohammad got in touch over canopy damage at his site, Lenton Boulevard Service Station, in Nottingham. He said that he hired DBS Maintenance in August to install a guttering system. It included canopy undersheeting and lights and the framework round the canopy for the BP signage.

The bill was nearly £20K. "From day one the guttering was leaking. There were four or five leaks around the canopy. It was like a mini waterfall."

After three months he was promised visits, repairs... but when this didn’t happen, he started copying me in on his emails to the company. He said he was being forced into a position where, if they didn’t make good their original work, he would have to get other contractors to do the repairs for which he would obviously seek reimbursement.

I contacted DBS pointing out the obvious the hazards and poor image that was being projected and after a reminder, we started to get somewhere.

Jacob Lamburne, project manager at DBS Maintenance, promised work would start in December. He wrote to Khalid, copying me in: "Having looked at the site findings I think that the best thing to do would be to install some additional outlets along the front elevation and run the water back to the central columns. This is the area where you are having problems and adding these outlets should help the water drain away.

"I am sorry you have had problems but I think this job was one that nobody really knew to the full extent how well this would work because of the fact that the building didn’t previously have a gutter system on the perimeter so this job was very much bespoke. I believe you had other firms look at it originally who said it couldn’t be done but hopefully with these adjustments you should see the gutter system performing as it should."

And he added a handy tip: "You may also want to look at having a pest control company install Bird Point along the canopy edge as the gutters have a lot of pigeon guano in and this will not help matters with the water flow."