Motorists paid £5m more a day for fuel than they should have last month after petrol station owners refused to pass on a drop in wholesale prices to consumers, the RAC has claimed.
The motoring organisation called December a “rotten month” despite the price of unleaded petrol falling by 2p per litre, after estimating that petrol retailers should have reduced the cost by 12p.
The RAC said that instead of pocketing the traditional long-term margin of 6p a litre, retailers took an average of 16p a litre on petrol and 12.5p on diesel.
Across December, the RAC estimates that drivers collectively lost out on £156m, or £5m a day, from the wholesale price cuts not being passed on by retailers.
“December was a rotten month for drivers as they were taken advantage of by retailers,” said Simon Williams, fuel spokesperson at the RAC. “In the past when wholesale prices have dropped retailers have always done the right thing – eventually – and reduced their pump prices.
“This time they’ve stood strong, taking advantage of all the media talk about ‘higher energy prices’ and banked on the oil price rising again and catching up with their artificially inflated prices, which it now has done.”
The Petrol Retailers Association (PRA), the body which represents independent filling stations in the UK, said that the retail fuel market was“extremely competitive” and that drivers were likely to have benefited more than the RAC’s figures indicated.
“December’s pump price data is less reliable because it is taken from fuel card transactions, and there have been far fewer of these transactions because of the reduction in business activity between Christmas and New Year,” said Gordon Balmer, executive director of the PRA. “The costs of running petrol stations rose all year, with electricity up 19%, vastly reduced margins from fuel cards as well as increased national insurance and wage inflation.”
In September, the PRA chair, Brian Madderson, said he did not “condone profiteering” as petrol prices rocketed and filling stations ran dry due to panic buying.
The RAC said in December it cost drivers £6 more to fill up a typical family car than if petrol retailers had stuck to taking the traditional 6p margin and passed savings on to motorists. Diesel vehicle owners paid £4 more than they potentially could have.
The RAC said at the end of last year Asda had the cheapest petrol, followed by Sainsbury’s, while motorists in Northern Ireland have the cheapest petrol on average in the UK.