Energy theft adds on an average of £20 to every household energy bill, research has revealed, costing a total of £440million each year.
In a time when energy bills are rising and with Electrical Fire Safety Week approaching next Monday, Stay Energy Safe is warning of the danger of electrical theft.
It said the act not only costs homes more money but it can also be the cause of many house fires, shocks and severe burns.
Meter cheating sees people tamper with the electricity meter so it doesn’t record how much electricity is being used.
Electrical theft adds £20 on to a households bill and can also be the cause of burns, data shows
It could also mean people are trying to bypass the electricity meter completely, meaning a person is not paying for their electricity or they are paying less than they should.
It can take many forms and even smart meters can be unsafe if tampered with.
The first signs can be shocks from switches and burns from appliances, but sudden fires and even explosions are possible too.
Some 150,000 suspected cases of energy theft are investigated each year with 1,500 charged annually.
The usual fine when caught is £2,000 but your gas or electricity may also be cut off if you are found guilty.
How to prevent electricity theft in your home
The best thing you can do to protect yourself from energy theft is to know the signs.
If you spot any of the following in your home – perhaps after you have just moved in, or if you are in a house share – you should be suspicious of energy theft and report this immediately:
1. Damaged casing: If you notice the casing to your meter is either smashed, broken or removed completely and the cables are disconnected, this is a good indication that your home has been a target for electricity theft.
2. Extra wires: An unusual amount of wires sticking out or wrapped around your meter with connector clips attaching them to the meter is also a sign of electricity theft.
If something looks slightly off with your meter it is best to get this checked out to prevent fire or further damage.
3. Melted meter: Electricity theft or not, if parts of the plastic casing are melted or have scorch and burn marks on the meter, you need to contact your energy provider and have a technician assess and fix the problem.
If this is ignored you could risk the chances of a house fire or damage to the surrounding area.
4. Working but no credit: Another sign that could indicate electricity theft is that your meter is showing your credit has run out, but electricity is still available.
If this continues to happen, speak to your landlord or electricity provider who can investigate the problem.
5. Meter dials not moving: Problems with your electricity meter are common when electricity theft has occurred.
If the dials on the meter aren’t going around, even when electricity is being used, this could mean your meter has been tampered with.
6. Burning smell: A smell of something burning or even smoke or sparks near the meter box is a warning sign that you are at potential risk of a fire starting in your home, which could be due to electricity theft.
Danger: Tampering with the meter can result in fines and the potential to start a fire
To promote a safer market for consumers, Ofgem has created rules for energy companies that require them to play an active role in detecting, investigating and preventing the theft of electricity.
It also works to ensure the arrangements to tackle theft of electricity act in the best interests of consumers.
The regulators rules for the electricity industry include a requirement for electricity suppliers to set up a cross industry theft risk assessment service to help them to better target investigations.
How to report electricity theft
If you’re concerned about electricity theft or want to know more on how you are protected from electricity theft, you can contact your energy supplier for more information.
You can also contact the UK Revenue Protection Association on 0207 090 1070 or complete the online fraud report form.
Households can also report the theft anonymously using the Stay Energy Safe website.
After you make a report, the relevant energy supplier will be notified and Crimestoppers will write a report based on the information provided which is sent to the relevant energy company.
Each supplier has its own way of dealing with energy theft. The meter may need to be inspected by a professional and will be removed or exchanged if there is a risk to public safety.
The report is also stored on a database at Crimestoppers’ call centre for a year, to allow action to be taken and Crimestoppers may keep reports for longer if they are needed for an ongoing investigation.