There are no rules surrounding the mark-up that retailers can set when selling fuel, but it appears that in March retailers chose to raise profit margins rather than setting a fair price.
The “rocket and feather tactics” used by larger fuel retailers to delay passing on savings at the pumps must end for good, the RAC has urged.
New analysis by Which? reveals drivers overpaid for petrol and diesel in the weeks after lockdown restrictions were introduced in March – with retailers raising profit margins rather than setting a fair price.
They found that average margins increased by 8p a litre – from 10p to 18p – as the wholesale price of oil plummeted in the early weeks of the pandemic.
And although forecourt prices fell below the £1 per litre mark at some supermarkets, it appears companies were still pocketing a disproportionate chunk of the savings.
There are currently no rules which dictate the mark-up retailers can set when selling fuel.
RAC fuel spokesman Simon Williams said: “We badly need greater transparency in fuel retailing so that drivers pay a fair price for their petrol and diesel wherever they choose to fill up.
“When wholesale prices fall, savings should be passed on to drivers straightaway but it often takes a week or more for these to be reflected at the pumps whereas any wholesale price increases are passed on daily.
“These ‘rocket and feather’ tactics have to disappear for good.”
Both Which? and the RAC acknowledged that some smaller, independent retailers may have needed to pocket higher margins simply to stay afloat amid lockdown – but agree that larger retailers have no excuse.
Mr Williams added: “While the RAC has long called for fairer pump prices, we had sympathy for smaller fuel retailers charging higher prices during the lockdown with so many drivers confined to their homes for so long.”
“Were these operators to shut up shop for good the country would be far worse off, so we think many drivers won’t have objected to paying more for their fuel to help keep these valuable businesses trading, especially considering how few miles they were doing at the time.”
Which? editor Harry Rose said: “There really is no excuse for some larger retailers to be keeping savings for themselves during the pandemic.
“For customers to be charged fairly at the pumps, wholesale savings must be passed on.”
The Petrol Retailers Association insists that wholesale savings are normally passed on to customers, but firms had to price fuel at pre-lockdown levels due to the drop in demand.
It is understandable that independent retailers may have needed to impose higher margins to stay afloat amid lockdown, but larger retailers should perhaps have considered making their prices a little fairer.