Hundreds of ‘thieves’ dodge restaurant bills
- Credit: Archant
More than 1,000 diners ran off without paying their bills in Avon and Somerset last year.
Industry representatives say leaving without paying for services including meals, petrol, or taxi journeys is akin to 'stealing someone's wages', and could leave people unable to provide for their families.
According to Home Office figures, Avon and Somerset Constabulary recorded 1,424 offences where people made off without payment from September 2017-18.
Tinka Krasteva, manager of Weston's Bistrot Pierre, said: "It has happened one or two times, but nothing major. On one occasion the people just forgot. It was two couples and they thought the other couple had paid.
"I caught up with them to let them know and they paid the bill."
The number of dine-and-dashers has dropped by 19 per cent compared to three years ago, however the proportion of offenders being charged by police has fallen.
In 2014-15, the police brought charges in five per cent of cases, but in 2017-18 this had fallen to two per cent.
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Federation of Small Businesses chairman Mike Cherry said the rise was being exacerbated by police cuts.
He said: "This can't be allowed to continue - lots of businesses have very tight margins and it's time to stop tolerating opportunistic thieves taking food off the family table.
"If the police are not able to meet the needs of businesses across the country, then the Government should step in and give the authorities the funding they need to tackle this problem."
The British Oil Security Syndicate, which helps recover debts for petrol stations, estimates drive-offs at garage forecourts cost retailers around £20million a year.
Taxi firms also suffer big losses when people run off without paying, however offences are not always investigated by the police.
Wayne Casey, from the National Taxi Association, said: "The police are being stretched to the bone so it's annoying for taxi drivers but you can understand it.
"Drivers do tend to take it personally though, because you've essentially just given up your time to take somebody home for free."
The majority of cases in Avon and Somerset - 67 per cent - were closed without a suspect being identified.