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Supermarkets using different fuel prices again

By Claire McNeilly

Northern Ireland’s leading supermarkets have returned to their controversial regional fuel pricing policies just months after bowing to customer pressure and moving towards a uniform price, the Belfast Telegraph can reveal.

Tesco and Sainsbury’s are both charging up to three different tariffs for petrol and diesel at forecourts across the province and, up until Wednesday, Asda customers were being subjected to two prices depending on which filling station they visited.

It marks an unwelcome return to the pricing disparities witnessed in 2008 with drivers being forced to pay tariffs based on geography in what is tantamount to a fuel price postcode lottery.

But an unrepentant Tesco has said it has no plans to adopt a single pricing policy for its petrol stations here.

The bad news comes as the cost of petrol tipped back over the £1-a-litre mark in Northern Ireland — hitting as much as 102.9p at one Maxol station in Larne.

Some stores also appear to be refusing to disclose their fuel prices over the telephone, preventing drivers from accessing information that could save money.

Northern Ireland Finance Minister Nigel Dodds slammed the supermarkets’ policies saying they had a responsibility to help consumers.

“It’s extremely disappointing that these retailers have reverted to type and gone back on the progress that was made, especially when the recession is biting so hard,” he said.

“It’s disgraceful that this differential pricing is happening and these companies can get away with it.

“The fact that they won’t give information openly and transparently over the phone to allow people to make a choice over where they shop shows that they know what they’re doing is wrong.”

The Belfast Telegraph has repeatedly exposed the price variations at local filling stations.

Last October Sainsbury’s bowed to public pressure by introducing a common price at its pumps here.

Rival Tesco then brought 93% of their fuel charges into line by offering the same tariffs at 13 of its 14 local forecourts.

But Tesco has now confirmed that unleaded is currently priced at between 93.9p and 95.9p a litre, while diesel costs between 99.9p and 101.9p. Only five out of 14 stores were willing to divulge prices when we contacted them on Monday.

There also appears to be a difference of up to 3p per litre at Sainsbury’s with petrol priced at up to 95.9p a litre and diesel costing as much as102.9p. Two stores out of seven refused to give details.

Asda, which has seven filling stations here, now offers uniform prices of 94.9p a litre for petrol and 99.9p for diesel across the board. But the cost of both was 1p less in Cookstown and Coleraine up until Wednesday. A spokeswoman for Sainsbury’s said their petrol prices were among the lowest in the country.

“Our customers can be confident that whenever they fill up with us they are getting the best possible value,” she said.

An Asda spokeswoman said the supermarket continued to lead competition across supermarket and independent petrol retailers.

“There can sometimes be very small variations in price by no more than 1p, which is due to competitor pricing in certain parts of the country. However, as of Wednesday, petrol and diesel prices will be consistent across all of our seven Northern Ireland outlets,” she said.

Tesco checks its petrol station prices against competitors daily, said a spokeswoman.

“As with the vast majority of petrol retailers in the UK, Tesco does not operate with one national price,” she added.

“Our clear goal for customers is to endeavour to be competitive on petrol and diesel in the local catchment area for each store.”

A spokeswoman for Maxol said retailers set their own prices at the pump based on their specific trading requirements and local conditions. She added: “It is no surprise that pump prices will vary as this is a clear indication of market forces at play.”

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