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Forecourt shake-up could stop drive-off thefts

Forecourts should introduce upfront fuel payments to avoid drive-off thefts, according to a senior police chief.

petrol pump

Reported examples of drive-off thefts grew by up to 40% last year 

Simon Cole, the National Police Chiefs’ Council (NPCC) lead on local policing, told the Telegraph that the fuel industry “could design out bilking in 30 seconds by making people pay up front, which is what they do in other countries,” he said.

However, the police chief said forecourts were reluctant to take the move “because the walk in their shops is part of their business offer”.

His comments have been slammed by the Petrol Retailers Association (PRA), which said retrofitting petrol pumps to take card payments at an average filling station would cost at £20,000, with some industry experts putting the cost higher still.

“Instead of ‘victim blaming’ petrol retailers, the police should be honest that they are struggling to deliver their commitment to reduce crime,” said PRA chairman Brian Madderson.

Madderson went on: “The UK has seen a 40% reduction in filling stations over the past 15 years. Those remaining have developed their retail offer to better serve their customers, with many lost amenities from banks and post offices migrating into the store of petrol stations, particularly in rural areas.”

“Rather than lecturing the victims of crime, the Government should be empowering responsible businesses to enforce the law where the police are too overstretched to intervene. One solution would be to give petrol retailers electronic access to the DVLA’s Vehicle Keeper database, so they can pursue drive-offs through the civil courts and ease pressure on the police.”

The RAC also warned that the switch to pay-at-pump technology could hit costs for independent forecourts who already make a small margin on selling fuel. Fuel spokesman Simon Williams added that this could possibly threaten the viability of some smaller operations and lead some to charge more for fuel to cover their costs.

“Some independent forecourts also rely on drivers spending money in their on-site stores in order to make ends meet – something that could disappear if every driver paid at the pump. It could also mean people no longer having the option of paying for fuel using cash.

“It would certainly make sense however for those retailers who suffer regular fuel thefts to consider investing in pre-payment systems, or demand drivers pay in person before they top up,” he added.

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Natalie Middleton

Natalie has worked as a fleet journalist for nearly 20 years, previously as assistant editor on the former Company Car magazine before joining Fleet World in 2006. Prior to this, she worked on a range of B2B titles, including Insurance Age and Insurance Day.