UK petrol and diesel prices: unleaded to fall below 175p
UK petrol and diesel prices are continuing to ease, with the average price of unleaded expected to drop below 175p per litre for the first time since the Jubilee weekend at the start of June.
This will represent a 16.5p reduction from the record average of 191.53p set on 3 July, but the AA has pointed out that the wholesale price of petrol has fallen by 30p since then, with retailers not sufficiently passing savings on.
Petrol is currently at a UK average of 175.24p per litre, while diesel sits at 185.90p. Northern Ireland’s fuel price checker, which has increased pricing competitiveness in that part of the UK, shows at least one fuel station in Belfast charging less than 150p per litre for petrol.
The average 16.5p per litre drop seen so far for petrol is equivalent to a £9.08 saving on an average tank, returning £396 to a typical annual family budget. If the full 30p saving had been passed on, though, the saving would have been £720.
Luke Bosdet, the AA’s fuel price spokesman, said: “Lower pump prices are taking the strain off family budgets at present and that benefit should eventually double to at least 30p a litre off the peak price of petrol in July. However, increases in domestic energy prices are likely to overwhelm those savings heading into the winter.
“That is why the UK needs the fuel trade to pass on the savings as quickly as possible. The 20p-a-litre fall in diesel wholesale costs should also be contributing to lower transport costs that will hopefully roll back some of the inflation on goods and services.”
Fuel retailers have been investigated after accusations that the 5p-per-litre fuel duty cut was pocketed instead of being passed on to consumers. Business secretary Kwasi Kwarteng wrote to the boss of the Competition and Markets Authority (CMA), asking for an independent review and the review has now reported that the tax cut was indeed reflected in petrol and diesel prices.
The CMA report did raise concerns over the growing gap between the price of crude oil and the wholesale price of petrol and diesel fuel. Oil industry experts have suggested that this is due to limited refining capacity and low refined fuel inventories, identifying these as the main drivers of the fuel price crisis facing the UK.
Russia is one of the world’s largest producers of oil and gas, so any disruptions to its production processes has a global impact.
With Russia having launched a full-scale invasion of Ukraine and facing international sanctions, there’s potential for significant disruption to supplies. Russia produces 4.5 million barrels of oil each day, and only Saudi Arabia produces more.
The sanctions levied against Russia so far have targeted banks and oligarchs rather than the country’s energy sector, but factors such as Germany’s postponement of the Nord Stream 2 gas pipeline will have an effect on the energy market overall. Russia also has the ability to reduce oil exports to Europe in a tit-for-tat response to economic sanctions, and experts suggest Saudi Arabian oil fields could struggle to increase production sufficiently to counter such measures.
“Opec, the oil producers’ cartel, is already struggling to meet its output targets as demand for crude rebounds following the easing of lockdown restrictions. This has pushed up prices, with analysts warning there is limited capacity to increase supplies if flows from Russia are affected by sanctions,” the Financial Times newspaper has reported.
The price of fuel can be divided into three sections; the taxes imposed by the Government, the costs of drilling, refining and transporting, and the profit margins for the fuel companies.
For petrol, diesel and bioethanols, the Government gets around 65 per cent of the overall cost through fuel duty and value added tax (VAT). The fuel duty represents the fixed price of fuel – it stays the same regardless how much overall oil prices fluctuate. Currently, the Treasury adds 57.95 pence to each litre of fuel through fuel duty, and another 20 per cent through VAT. How much you pay in VAT depends on how much fuel you purchase.
The second biggest chunk comes from the wholesale costs of the fuel itself. The wholesale cost is a combination of currency exchange rates, global oil prices, and even domestic supply and demand.
Experts predict high fuel costs will be with us for the foreseeable future, and it’s not just down to the crisis in Ukraine – energy costs have been high for the best part of a year already as demand surged as the world emerged from lockdown.
Part of the problem is down to the fact that relatively low barrel prices in recent years have put plans to drill for new reserves on hold. That’s true in Africa, the US and South America, and while the current high prices may increase interest in exploring new reserves, it can take years for new wells to come on stream in volumes required to affect the market.
Supermarket forecourts usually offer the cheapest fuel prices and this is because of the market power supermarkets hold. Companies like Asda, Tesco, Sainsbury’s and Morrisons are all in competition with one another, so they keep fuel prices as low as possible hoping that when motorists come to fill their tank, they might do their weekly grocery shopping, too.
There are persistent rumours that supermarket fuel contains fewer additives and is of lesser quality than fuel from traditional forecourts, but there’s little hard evidence of this. All fuel sold in the UK has to abide by the standards set in the Motor Fuel Regulation.
Motorway fuel stations argue the reason their prices are higher is that many of them are open 24 hours a day and offer more services than a regular forecourt. Motorway fuel stations also pay high rent prices for the buildings they operate.
In more remote areas, fuel is often more expensive because of the higher transport and supply costs, but according to RAC fuel spokesman Simon Williams, this doesn’t apply to motorway stations: “We can see no reason why motorway fuel should be so much more expensive. In fact, arguably it is much easier from a delivery point of view than it is getting fuel to urban filling stations.”
Although diesel and petrol are taxed the same by the Treasury, historically diesel has been more expensive than petrol, as domestic refineries have struggled to meet demand. This has forced the UK to import diesel from other countries at a greater rate than petrol. In addition, diesel prices are pushed up by the cost of the additives that go into the fuel.
Furthermore, the gap between UK petrol and diesel prices widens during the winter. The end of the US “driving season” means retailers have a surplus of petrol they can’t export, so they sell it here at a lower price. Diesel demand, meanwhile, increases across continental Europe, where the fuel is commonly used in heating oil.
Recently, the influx of cheap diesel from countries like Saudi Arabia has turned the tide, swinging diesel wholesale prices closer to that of petrol, and bringing the pump price down with it. However the fact that we get a higher percentage of diesel from Russia than petrol means the advantage has swung the other way again.
What’s your view on fuel prices in the UK? Do we pay too much for our petrol and diesel? What would you do about it? Join the debate in our comments section below…
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