Plummeting sales during the COVID-19 lockdown could force petrol stations to close leaving some hauliers facing fuel shortages, fuel retailers are warning.

The closures could particularly impact on smaller hauliers that do not have the facilities to bunker fuel, particularly those located in rural areas, according to the Petrol Retailers Association (PRA).

PRA chairman Brian Madderson, said: “To help freight move and help key workers travel safely and independently through this period of crisis, petrol filling stations must remain open, but this is proving to be a challenge for many filling stations.”

A recent survey by the government’s Business, Energy & Industrial Strategy (BEIS) department, which covered nearly 60% of all petrol filling stations, showed that petrol consumption was down by 75% and diesel by 71% since lockdown as the public heeds the government’s “stay at home” instructions.

PRA is warning the situation will particularly impact petrol filling stations in rural areas where fuel volumes are low.

In a statement the association said: “We will aim to keep a strategic network of petrol stations open across the country, but people should check their petrol station is open before they go to fill up.”

The PRA says the situation is exacerbated by staff shortages due to employees self-isolating, fuel price competition from supermarkets and a lack of flexibility on delivery loads and credit terms by “some fuel suppliers”.

The PRA is calling on government to instruct fuel suppliers to give the same 60-day credit terms to independent filling stations as they give to the supermarkets.

Madderson continued, “Fuel retailers are having to maintain pump prices at previous levels to avoid suffering significant stock losses. When the COVID-19 restrictions are lifted and high sales volumes return, then we expect to see reductions in retail fuel prices.

“Petrol stations are the government’s tax collectors, with duty and VAT representing 70% of the pump price. It is in their interests that we remain open for business.”