Cost of Living

Petrol prices: Consumer watchdog receives almost 200 complaints in two weeks

The CCPC has urged anyone with information about cartel behaviour and collusion to come forward as a whistleblower.

LAST UPDATE | Mar 23rd 2022, 3:23 PM

IRELAND’S COMPETITION AND consumer protection watchdog has received nearly 200 complaints about petrol and diesel pricing practices by filling stations, an Oireachtas committee has heard.

Speaking at the Oireachtas enterprise committee this morning, Jeremy Godfrey, chairman of the Competition and Consumer Protection Commission (CCPC), urged whistleblowers with information about cartel behaviour by petrol stations to come forward.

However, he reminded the public that the CCPC’s mandate is to ensure that “prices are set independently” and that they are displayed correctly by stations.

The watchdog does not, he said, have a mandate to investigate “excessive pricing” unless the business in question is “in a dominant position” where it faces little competition.

Only in that circumstance would excessive pricing be considered illegal, he said, in which case the watchdog could act to enforce the law.

“As long as businesses do not collude, they are free to set their own prices and they may observe their competitor’s prices and adjust their prices accordingly,” Godfrey explained.

The CCPC has been deluged with complaints in recent weeks amid a sharp rise in prices at the pump.

Global crude oil prices — which economists say were already elevated last year due to a rebound in demand after the initial shock of the pandemic — have spiked in recent weeks as a consequence of the war in Ukraine.

In response, the Government announced excise duty cuts of 20c per litre on petrol, 15c per litre on diesel and 2c on marked gas oil earlier this month.

However, the CCPC confirmed at the time that filling stations are not obliged to pass on these tax cuts to customers.

Speaking today, Godfrey said that many of the 200 complaints the watchdog has received centre on allegations that individual petrol stations have not passed on the excise duty cut to motorists.

“In general, these complaints allege the filling stations have failed to pass on the excise duty reduction in a timely manner, or that they have exploited the current economic situation to raise fuel prices and increase profits,” he said.

“Some complaints include allegations of collusion and a few contain information about price movements. or particular filling stations. We’ve also received a number of complaints relating to allegations of filling stations turning off their rights and pricing displays.

He added, “We urge anyone who has specific information about collusion or any other breach of competition and consumer protection law to provide it to us.”

Whistleblowers who have information about cartels can provide the CCPC with that information anonymously at .

Godfrey also said that any company involved in cartel behaviour that comes forward to give evidence “can apply for immunity from criminal prosecution”.

‘Price gouging’

Representatives groups for fuel retailers and wholesalers have repeatedly hit back at allegations of price gouging. 

Speaking at the Oireachtas transport committee this afternoon, David Blevings, a spokesperson for the Irish Petrol Retailers Association, said retailers have “no control” over wholesale prices.

He claimed that due to the Government’s messaging around fuel pricing ahead of the decision to cut excise duty, “we saw widespread abuse to retailers bordering on violence” in some cases

“Some retailers advised that their staff refused to come to work following the abuse they received from consumers over the reported allegations of gouging and profiteering in the media,” Blevings said.

He added, “We purchase fuel from major oil companies based on the previous market day closing price.

“Retailers are emailed a daily wholesale price which gives them the purchase price of fuel for the next day’s delivery.”

However, he said, “The heightened political tensions resulting from the invasion of Ukraine and the package of economic sanctions imposed by the West resulted in an unprecedented increase in prices for crude oil, which lead to increased prices for refined products.”

Blevings said that declining to pass on wholesale price increases to ensure profitability would amount to “commercial suicide” for petrol and diesel retailers. 

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