The cost of filling up a car with petrol can currently vary by more than £3.50 in Britain as average fuel prices drop at a differing pace across the country, This is Money can reveal.
A litre of unleaded on average is most expensive in London costing 113.6p at the start of this week, while in Northern Ireland it is just 105.7p, data released by Forecourt Trader – the flag waver for the petrol retail industry – and the AA shows.
The figures show the region where fuel prices have recently fallen by the most is the West Midlands – consequently the area where a retailer has been selling unleaded for less than £1-a-litre for over a week.
Inconsistency at the pumps: Fuel price data shows that a litre of unleaded on average is most expensive in London costing 113.6p and cheapest in Northern Ireland, at just 105.7p
The latest average fuel price data shows that there is no consistency across the UK with the rate at which petrol prices are decreasing following the recent crash in oil caused by competition between Saudi Arabia and Russia and the fall in demand following the Covid-19 outbreak across Europe.
The difference in unleaded prices is as much as 8p-a-litre depending on where you live – which can translates to a gulf of £3.78 to fill up, the AA says.
While the gap between the most and least expensive locations has fallen from around £4 a week earlier, experts say some areas are still not passing on savings as rapidly as others.
For instance, the speed of the price fall in the South East is only just starting to pick up but, compared to Northern Ireland, a tank of petrol still costs £3.50 more.
With traffic volumes shrinking by three quarters since the country was put into lockdown as part of measures to prevent the spread of coronavirus, the Petrol Retailers Association warned last week that hundreds of smaller independent business would have to close in the coming weeks due to a lack of sales.
That said, it is the most most rural parts of the UK that are charging much less for fuel than the most populous.
Fuel prices have fallen most in the last week in the West Midlands, while prices are dropping at the slowest rate in the North East
The difference in unleaded prices is as much as 8p-a-litre depending on where you live
Luke Bosdet, fuel spokesman for the AA, told This is Money: ‘Some time ago, Northern Ireland used to be the most expensive part of the UK for road fuel, other than perhaps the Highlands. More recently, it has become the cheapest.
‘This has been a puzzle. Factors that may have contributed to the change in fortune is the retailer mix, in particular Asda opening up fuel stations in most of Northern Ireland’s major towns and cities.
‘Another possibility is that it has an effective consumer watchdog in the Consumer Council. Mainland UK can’t even get to grips with hugely expensive motorway pump prices.
‘The oil price crash, with the knock-on for wholesale costs heading to the pump, has made the price difference between one end of the country and the other more acute.’
Another standout figure in the data is the rate at which the price of petrol is falling in the West Midlands, down 4.28p per litre on average in the last week.
This is the area home to the first independent fuel retailer to offer petrol for less than £1-a-litre a fortnight ago – a Murco station outside Birmingham.
Average prices are falling fastest in the West Midlands. Consequently, this is the area where a retailer lowered unleaded below £1-a-litre first a fortnight ago
The AA says the pricing by this retailer alone is unlikely to have triggered the decline across the region, but says it points to there being much stronger competition than in other parts of the UK.
Unleaded prices fell at the slowest rate in the North East last week, down just 2p-a-litre on average.
The news comes after it was revealed earlier this week that fuel prices have hit a three-and-a-half-year low with some petrol stations selling it for less than £1-a-litre.
Government figures showed the average cost of a litre of petrol in the UK is £1.10 and £1.17 for diesel.
In the past week, typical prices for both fuel types have fallen by 2p per litre, resulting in the lowest average price for petrol since August 2016, and diesel since August 2017.
A 55-litre family car is today around £9 cheaper to fill up than it was in late January.
It comes after the price of oil plummeted as a result of the global coronavirus outbreak, with two of the world’s top producers falling out over the pandemic.
Fuel prices have sunk to their lowest level in up to three-and-a-half years
Saudi Arabia, which produces around 10 per cent of global supplies, decided to slash prices and ramp up production after Russia refused to go along with planned cuts.
After hitting an 18-year low last week – below 25 dollars for a barrel of Brent crude oil – prices rallied when US President Donald Trump said the two sparring countries would agree to slash production.
A barrel of Brent is now trading at 33.67 dollars, but investors have seemed cautious this week, and the price dropped 3.1 per cent on Monday.
The number of motorists taking advantage of cheaper fuel is limited however, as the Government has ordered people to only go outside for food, health reasons or to commute if they cannot work from home.
Department for Transport figures show that road traffic has fallen by around two-thirds in the past three weeks.
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