Petrol station owners will have to provide near-live data amid concerns drivers are being ripped off

Fuel retailers will be forced to share near-live information on price changes at the pump to help drivers find the cheapest petrol and diesel, after the government accused them of treating motorists as “cash cows”.

Petrol station owners will be required to provide data within half an hour of any change as part of a political effort to bring transparency to the sector amid concerns that drivers are being ripped off.

Since last August, a dozen big players in the forecourt market – including supermarket groups Tesco, Sainsbury’s, Asda and Morrisons – have voluntarily provided fuel price data each day to the Competition and Markets Authority (CMA).

The plans will make it a legal requirement for all fuel retailers in the UK to provide the data to the government on a near-live basis. Local authorities will be handed powers to impose financial penalties on petrol stations that do not comply with the new rules.

The Department for Energy Security and Net Zero plans to contract an aggregator to manage the data, which will then be made freely available. Ministers hope tech companies and industry watchers will then seize the opportunity to develop price comparison tools to bring the information to UK drivers. The plans will be consulted on for eight weeks.

The government and motoring groups have repeatedly accused fuel retailers of ripping off consumers and not passing on falls in wholesale prices.

The implementation of the voluntary scheme followed an investigation by the CMA, which found that prices had risen since 2019, before the pandemic, “due to a decision by the traditional price leaders to compete less hard”. Grant Shapps, the then energy secretary, said retailers had “been using motorists as cash cows”.

On Tuesday, the energy security secretary, Claire Coutinho, said: “We are forcing retailers to share live information on their prices within 30 minutes of any change in price, helping drivers to find the best deal at the pump.

“This will put motorists back in the driving seat and bring much-needed competition back to the forecourts.”

Falling oil prices helped the average price of a litre of petrol hit 139.7p last week – its lowest level since October 2021, the government said.

Brent crude prices have fallen since last autumn and have remained relatively steady recently despite disruption to international trade as a result of missile strikes on vessels in the Red Sea, hovering just under $80 a barrel as traders and politicians monitor the situation.

The new data will show the differences in prices across the country and between different branches of the same chain. For example, the CMA data showed that on Sunday Asda’s Colchester branch was offering petrol at 145.7p a litre, while the chain was selling at 131.7p a litre in Strabane in Northern Ireland, where prices are typically cheaper.

Last year, the CMA said that in 2022 UK motorists paid about £900m in additional costs due to supermarkets failing to pass on savings from lower oil prices.

The RAC’s fuel spokesperson, Simon Williams, said: “Time is critical now. We need this to happen as quickly as possible.

“Sadly, there have been far too many occasions where drivers have lost out at the pumps when wholesale prices have fallen significantly and those reductions haven’t been passed on quickly enough or fully enough by retailers.”

Extracted in full from:  https://www.theguardian.com/money/2024/jan/16/uk-fuel-retailers-forced-share-prices-within-half-hour-changes

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