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UK supermarkets accused of raising fuel margins despite petrol price drop

<span>Photograph: Joe Giddens/PA</span>
Photograph: Joe Giddens/PA

Supermarkets have been accused of taking 10p extra in margins on fuel – despite the cost of filling up a car with petrol dropping below £90 for the first time since May.

Petrol and diesel prices reached record highs this year after Russia’s invasion of Ukraine pushed up the cost of oil. However, in recent weeks prices have calmed as the oil price has fallen on concerns over a global recession.

The RAC said the average price of petrol fell by nearly 7p a litre to 162.89p in September – the sixth-biggest monthly drop since 2000. The fall means the cost of filling a typical 55-litre petrol tank has fallen below £90 for the first time since the start of May.

The motoring group claimed drivers would have enjoyed a further 10p reduction in petrol prices but major retailers instead opted to increase their margins.

The RAC fuel spokesperson Simon Williams said long-term margins on unleaded petrol are typically around 7p a litre. “In stark contrast to this, RAC Fuel Watch data has shown margins to be around 17p a litre – a huge 10p more than normal. And the average price of petrol at the big four supermarkets is only 1.5p lower than the UK average – less than half what it usually is, which points heavily to them not playing fair with drivers.”

Supermarkets have historically used cut-price fuel deals as a way to tempt in shoppers to buy higher-margin products.

Average diesel price fell by 3.5p a litre in September to 180.16p, the first time a tank of diesel has cost less than £100 since late May. Supermarket diesel reduced by 1.4p to 178.56p – 2p less than the UK average drop. Diesel is normally 3.5p cheaper at big supermarkets.

The Competition and Markets Authority (CMA) is studying the state of the fuel market after the surge in pump prices. The watchdog examined claims that petrol retailers had not passed on a cut to fuel duty. Its initial findings raised concerns over margins made by fuel refineries.

Oil prices have fallen back from $130 a barrel in mid-June to $88 at the end of September. They have risen this week on signs the Opec oil cartel and its allies may agree to cut production to bolster prices at a meeting in Vienna this week.

The fall in the pound against the dollar has put pressure on fuel costs for British companies as oil is traded in dollars.

Williams said: “While there are no rules on what retailers can charge for their fuel, it remains the case that the supermarkets are extremely influential in determining the UK average pump prices as they sell so much fuel.

“However, as many drivers will have noticed, there are lots of smaller forecourts which are now selling fuel much cheaper than the supermarkets.”