New data reveals a 68 per cent surge in reports of meter tampering and energy theft during winter.
The data - revealed by Stay Energy Safe, an independent service operated by the charity Crimestoppers - is based on an average of 1,000 tip-offs a month between August 2022 and August 2023.
The service says record levels of suspected energy theft were reported during the winter months and it forecasts more of the same this year, especially following the end of the energy bills support scheme, which finished in March.
David Crawley of Crimestoppers says: “The increasing cost of energy is leading some people to act illegally and bypass or tamper with their meter to cut costs. This can put people such as loved ones, employees and customers in grave danger. Innocent victims could suffer the consequences, so we’re appealing to anyone tempted to risk lives for the sake of saving money to think twice.”
He describes energy theft is “a ticking time bomb putting people and communities at risk.”
The charity cites a London landlord who was sentenced to nine months in prison and fined £90,000 after tampering with energy meters in his 22 rented properties. He offered free electricity to tenants “putting them and their neighbours in great danger” according to the organisation.
In another case study, an eight-year-old boy in an Essex pub garden in 2019 suffered a fatal electric shock. The landlord was found to have tampered with the electricity supply and was sentenced to nine years in prison.
Tampering with a gas meter can have disastrous effects including gas leaks that may lead to explosions.
Crimestoppers says that in spite of this, a recent study by Direct Line business insurance found that 43 per cent of electricians and gas engineers have been asked by customers to tamper with their meters. The same survey found that 92 per cent of the electricians and gas engineers believed higher energy costs led to more people looking at how to make their meters run slowly.