An estimated 25,000 cases of electricity theft, coupled with around 3,300 instances of gas theft, means energy theft is costing the UK around £400 million every year – that’s at least £20 per person, per year.
The cost can be more than financial - 36 injuries and two deaths are caused every year as a direct result of energy theft – and you could be at risk, without even realising.
Energy theft is a way of bypassing a gas or electricity meter so actual usage rates can’t be measured or recorded.
Also known as ‘meter cheating’ (or abstracting electricity, in cases of electricity theft), techniques can be as crude as using pieces of hosepipe to bypass gas meters, and breaking off teeth from the cogs in meters to rig the readings, or as sophisticated as using a smartphone to reverse a meter, and even installing a spare meter to run in between the energy company’s readings.
Criminal gangs have also been known to dig up streets to divert supplies, before charging households as much as £500 to connect to their illegal supply line.
Energy theft can go unnoticed almost indefinitely, but there are a few tell-tale signs to look out for:
Tampering with any gas supply is extremely dangerous and carries a high risk of causing a gas leak. If this happens, gas fumes can build up in a property and cause anyone inside to suffer headaches or even fall unconscious. The leaking gas is also highly flammable and can cause a huge explosion, resulting in massive property damage and death – and it takes something as innocuous as flicking a light switch to ignite it.
Interfering with a building’s electricity supply and wiring can make switches or appliances become ‘live’ to the touch and cause shocks, burns and even death by electrocution. It can also cause appliances to malfunction and catch fire. Exposed wires and connections can overheat and lead to fires that cause large scale property damage, and even total destruction and the death of anyone in there.
Regardless of what anyone peddling meter cheating tells you, it’s far from a victimless crime.
Anyone found guilty of energy theft will be convicted under Section 13 of the Theft Act and can be sentenced to a maximum of five years imprisonment and a fine of £2,000. This sentence will be even more severe if property is damaged and people are killed in an accident that has been caused by tampering with a gas or electricity supply.
Stayenergysafe is a partnership between Crimestoppers and all 96 of the UK’s energy providers, and all instances of energy theft can be reported anonymously and in complete confidence.
You can also report the problem to the United Kingdom Revenue Protection Association (UKRPA) via its Report Online Fraud form. Again, all correspondence is completely confidential, but you must be able to provide an address for the alleged tampering in order for them to be able to investigate.
It’s also worth contacting your energy supplier to explain the situation.
If you smell gas or are worried that fumes containing carbon monoxide are escaping from a gas appliance, call the free Gas Emergency Services line immediately on 0800 111 999.
To report a power cut, or damage to power lines, call the national Freephone number, 150.
Click here to run an energy price comparison, and see if you could be paying less for your gas and electricity.