Belfast Telegraph

Families spending more on fuel than on food

Motorists being forced off road as rising prices take a heavy toll

By Adrian Rutherford

Soaring fuel prices are driving motorists across Northern Ireland off the road, with many families now spending more on petrol than their weekly food shop.

The stark warning comes as the average cost of petrol here hits 143.9p per litre — the highest anywhere in the UK and 1.4p above the national average.

It means filling up a car with a 50-litre tank now costs nearly £72 — more than the estimated £70 that two-children families spend every week on groceries.

Diesel, at 148.2p per litre, is also more expensive than the UK average of 147.9p.

The shock figures are contained in a new report by the AA.

According to the organisation, rising fuel prices since the turn of the year have added around £22 to the monthly petrol bill for a two-car family.

Luke Bosdet from the AA said some families are now being forced off the road because of price hikes.

“We know that 76% of our membership is either cutting back on car use, cutting back on other spending, or a combination of the two,” he told the Belfast Telegraph.

“A 50-litre refill is costing more than the average family with two kids spends each week on food shopping.

“We are getting emails every week from people asking for advice on how they can afford to continue to drive to work.

“It has a severe impact on people who cannot absorb the rising costs.”

According to Mr Bosdet, motorists in Northern Ireland are particularly hard hit because of the region’s geography.

“It is happening all over, and especially in Northern Ireland which is in as bad a situation as highland Scotland,” he added.

“It’s a heavily rural area and many people have to travel significant distances to get to built-up areas and even to find fuel.”

Scott Kennerley, who is head of transport policy at the Northern Ireland Consumer Council, said motorists are facing increased cutbacks.

“The escalating price of fuel means that consumers have to question the necessity of every single journey by car,” he said.

There has also been an angry backlash from motorists to the report’s findings, with many claiming they are struggling to cope with the rising costs.

Ciaran Campbell, a customer service assistant from West Belfast, has seen his fuel bill double from £20 a week to £40.

“I don’t go out as much in the car because I can’t afford it any more. It’s ridiculous,” he said.

“On top of the car insurance, MOT and road tax, it costs a fortune to drive.”

Des Cassidy, a married father-of-two from Belfast, said he is spending more on petrol than before.

“We are getting close to spending more on petrol than food,” he said.

“It’s getting to the point where the only time I use the car is for work and my wife just picks up and drops the kids off in her car.”

Sinn Fein MLA Jennifer McCann (below) said the price of petrol is placing ordinary people under severe pressure.

“The simple fact is that these high prices will stave off any economic recovery and place extra and severe pressure on households across the north,” she said.

“The effects will be felt even harder in rural communities where public transport infrastructure is not sufficient and people rely on their cars.”

Alliance councillor Michael Long urged retailers to adopt a consistent price across Northern Ireland.

“I would always urge consumers to shop around for the best price for any product but there is confusion in that the same retailers are charging different prices only a few miles apart,” he said.

“Consumers are losing out by these variances in charges, I hope that these large retailers will see sense and implement a standardised price across their stores in Northern Ireland.”

My view: Scott Kennerley

We need to know what Westminster is planning to do to help us

The latest AA fuel price report confirms what most consumers already know — the price of petrol has risen to a new high.

Northern Ireland once again has the highest price in the UK for petrol and the highest in the EU for diesel.

The escalating price of fuel means consumers have to question the necessity of every single journey by car. AA’s report also reveals another telling statistic — the average price for petrol here is 12.52p per litre more expensive than the European average while diesel is 24.09p per litre more expensive.

The Consumer Council is seeking action at three levels.

First, we are supporting calls for an investigation at EU level into the price of fuel.

Consumers need transparency on fuel costs. They understand there are many factors that impact on the prices of petrol and diesel but need clarity to understand why the prices are so high. Comparing prices for petrol and diesel across Europe before tax and duty have been included still shows a wide spread in prices.

Secondly, Westminster should explain what plans it has to help share the burden of high petrol and diesel prices with consumers. This impact of rising fuel costs is only likely to in

crease when the planned 3p increase in fuel duty takes effect in August 2012.

The Consumer Council has written to the Treasury to request the Government takes direct action to help consumers in Northern Ireland affected by high fuel prices — removing the planned increase in August would be a start.

Related to this is the fact the “tax take” on diesel in the UK is the highest in Europe and third highest for petrol. Approximately 60% of the price consumers pay at the pumps for petrol and diesel is tax and duty.

Finally, major multi-site supermarket petrol and diesel retailers should end regional pricing as prices can differ by up to 6p per litre depending on where the store is located.

The Consumer Council has conveyed concerns to the highest levels and will continue to push for direct action to help consumers cope.

* Scott Kennerley is head of transport policy at the Northern Ireland Consumer Council

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