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Should you pay for fuel upfront?

Should you pay for fuel upfront?


A top police officer has suggested making motorists pre-pay for their fuel to combat ‘bilking’ – filling a car and driving off without paying.

Make motorists pay for fuel up front to prevent theft, says police chief

A top police officer has suggested making motorists pre-pay for their fuel to combat ‘bilking’ – filling a car and driving off without paying.

Simon Cole, chief constable for Leicestershire and the National Police Chiefs’ Council (NPCC) lead on local policing, suggested retrofitting all petrol pumps with pre-pay devices to combat fuel theft, adding that around 12 per cent of all the crimes his force faced were retail-related.

Cole said: “The petrol industry could design out bilking in 30 seconds by making people pay up front, which is what they do in other countries,”

“They don’t, because their walk-in shops are part of their business offer.”

Last year, 25,000 people drove off without paying for their fuel.

Several forces reported an increase in the crime – some with rises of up to 40 per cent.

But Gordon Balmer, commercial manager of the Petrol Retailers’ Association, warned that retrofitting pumps with pre-pay devices wouldn’t be as easy as it sounds.

He warned that altering existing pumps would cost at least £20,000 to do at an average filling station.

In addition, up to 50 per cent of the average forecourt’s profit now comes from non-fuel sales – more in rural communities, where fuel stations have replaced amenities such as banks and post offices.

“Many of those services have migrated into the store of a petrol station,” Balmer said.

The pre-pay system is used widely in countries such as the USA but has been blamed for lower profits, with customers not bothering to visit forecourt convenience stores.

Simon Williams, fuel spokesperson for the motoring organisation the RAC, said:

“Pay-at-pump technology could solve the problem of bilking, but it could also have some unintended consequences."

"Some independent forecourts 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.”

The call comes after the head of the NPCC called for a ‘refocus on core policing’ – warning that officers cannot respond to issues such as burglary and violence because of potentially less serious crimes taking up their time.