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Forecourt drive-offs on rise due to soaring costs

Forecourt drive-offs - where motorists fill up and take off without paying for fuel - are on the rise, according to a new investigation.

And that's probably because they represent a simplistic way of stealing petrol or diesel for ordinary motorists who want a free tankful.

Viewers of tonight's BBC One investigation The Great Fuel Robbery will see Panorama lift the lid on this and other forms of fuel crime. It's a growing problem, not least because fuel costs have increased by a third in just two years, with 60% of the price at the pump being tax.

The profits to be made by avoiding this tax is what is driving the illegal profiteers forward and turning them quite often to red diesel.

Red diesel is a subsidised or 'rebated' fuel which farmers and building contractors are legally allowed to use for off-road vehicles like tractors and diggers. It is against the law for anyone to use red diesel on the road because the tax man isn't being paid.

For many businesses, however, illegally avoiding fuel tax seems the lesser of the two evils when the alternative may be going under.

From the supply chain to the retailer, fuel is "extraordinary good value" according to Chris Hunt from the UK Petroleum Industry Association.

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"Relative to Europe we provide - consistently - the cheapest pre-tax petrol and diesel products in Europe. But once you put on duty and VAT it's very much a different matter," said Mr Hunt.

In a statement the Treasury said that the price of fuel is determined by a range of factors and the retail price is ultimately a commercial decision.

It said the estimated illicit market share for diesel in the UK has been reduced from 10% of the market to 4%.

It added that as part of a package designed to ease the burden placed on motorists, It has introduced a range of measures which mean petrol is 6p a litre cheaper than it otherwise would have been.

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