UK demands better deal for drivers in road fuel market

By James Davey

LONDON (Reuters) -Britain will require supermarkets and retailers to give drivers access to live fuel prices at every petrol station on their phones or satnavs after the country’s antitrust regulator said competition had weakened in the sector since 2019.

Last week, finance minister Jeremy Hunt met regulators to agree steps to ensure consumers are being treated fairly amid a cost of living crisis.

Publishing the results of its investigation into the road fuel market, the Competition and Markets Authority (CMA) said UK drivers who bought fuel at supermarkets in 2022 paid around 6 pence per litre more than they would have done otherwise due to the ‘big four’ supermarkets increasing their margins.

The CMA blamed the weakening in competition on a decision by Asda and Morrisons, the traditional price-leaders on fuel, to compete less hard so as to achieve higher margins, and a lack of competitive response to this by others, including Tesco and Sainsbury’s.

“Competition is not working well and greater transparency in pricing is needed to improve consumer confidence and bring down prices for drivers,” it said on Monday.

However, it said there was no evidence to suggest “cartel behaviour” had taken place and the CMA has no plans to open an enforcement case.

It proposed the government implements an open data “fuel finder” scheme to help drivers find the cheapest fuel in their area, and the government said in a separate statement it would change the law to force retailers to comply.

“When their customers are feeling the pinch, retailers should not be charging over the odds for fuel as some have been,” Hunt said on Twitter.

Spokespeople for Tesco, Asda and Morrisons said they welcomed the CMA’s recommendation to introduce a fuel finder scheme and supported greater transparency on prices.

Sainsbury’s did not immediately reply to a request for comment, though it has previously said it would support such a scheme.

The watchdog also recommended the government create a new road fuels prices monitoring body with information-gathering powers to hold the industry to account.

This body would recommend further action if competition continues to weaken in the market.

Asda was fined 60,000 pounds ($76,000) for failing to provide relevant information in a timely manner to the CMA’s year-long investigation, it added.

($1 = 0.7890 pounds)

(Reporting by Sinchita Mitra in Bangalore and James Davey and Sarah Young in London; editing by William James and Mark Potter)