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Pulling the plug on energy theft

Thursday 06 June 2019

The independent charity Crimestoppers is working to raise awareness of the costs and dangers of energy theft. As well as providing information and support for people that are worried that they may be at risk, Crimestoppers receives information through its dedicated reporting service, stay energy safe.

Data suggests that people are most likely to come across evidence of energy theft when moving home – either when buying a new home or moving into rented accommodation–and the charity urges tenants, landlords and property agents alike to help put a stop to this dangerous and costly crime.

Stayenergysafe is an anonymous service which allows people to share information about energy theft 100 per cent anonymously, either via an online form or through the phone line which is available 24/7. Energy theft often involves tampering with the gas or electricity meters and supply so that it incorrectly records the amount of energy that is being used or bypassing the meter completely. Energy theft is all around us, in homes and businesses all over the country. It’s estimated to cost the energy industry up to £500 million a year. But that’s not the biggest cost.

Energy theft is not only illegal – it’s highly dangerous

Meddling with electricity wiring and gas pipes is a risky business. It comes at a very high price – damage to property, the risk of disconnection, fines, or criminal prosecution. In the worst scenarios, when people tamper with or bypass electricity and gas meters, they put people in and near the property at risk of sparks, burns, shocks, electrical fires, gas leaks and fatal explosions. Energy theft is seen by many as a way to save money, and the dangers are often overlooked. So-called ‘professional’ meter tamperers advertise their services for a fee, targeting business owners, landlords, and tenants alike. Perhaps even more frightening is how business owners, landlords, and tenants try their own hand at it. Unknowingly –or perhaps knowingly – they are making staff, tenants, and neighbours the victims of the crime.

Energy theft is costing us all

On top of the possible dangers, energy crime comes at a cost to hard-working people. Eighty per cent of people are unaware that energy crime hits them in the pocket. If it is discovered that someone has committed energy crime in one of your properties it could invalidate insurance cover and could command large fines. This is on top of the serious risk posed to human and animal life. Unfortunately, energy theft happens more often than you might think, with both residential and commercial tenants being known to have tampered with their meters in an attempt to save money on their bills. The stayenergysafe website has a number of stories of incidents of energy theft.

How can you spot the signs of energy theft?

There are some tell-tale signs to look out for to help determine if a gas or electricity meter has been tampered with:

  • smell of gas
  • loose or extra wiring rubber tubing instead of pipes (in the case of gas)
  • a back-to-front meter
  • dials not moving or moving backwards
  • burn or scorch marks
  • melted meter
  • working but no credit available
  • sparks

However, some signs are less physical – from people bragging about saving money on their bills, to tenants leaving radiators on in the summer and windows open in the winter for long periods.

What can you do if you suspect energy theft

If you suspect that a tenant, colleague or neighbour is stealing gas or electricity you should report it to the stay energy safe reporting line immediately. The service is open to professionals and members of the public alike. Crimestoppers guarantee 100 per cent anonymity means that information shared with stayenergysafe will not and cannot be traced back to the person.

Dominic O’Reilly, Head of Marketing and Communications for Crimestoppers, said: “The stayenergysafe service has seen some really positive results since we launched it in 2016, and not only is it seeing more energy theft being reported, but it also helps to protect communities and businesses.

“Energy theft is one of those crimes that people don’t think affects them, but that could not be further from the truth, which is why we’re asking for the public’s help.

“If you know someone tampering with a meter, then we want to know about it. You remain anonymous and keep your community safe by contacting us, and the person responsible is held accountable for their actions.”

To find out more or to make an anonymous report of energy theft, visit www.stayenergysafe.co.uk

This article was originally published in issue 34 of Property Professional, our exclusive members' magazine, visit the join section to learn Property Professional and the other membership benefits. Members can download digital copies of Property Professional from the online shop.