What your business needs to know about the dangers of energy theft

26 April 2017

Energy theft is a growing problem in the UK, with an estimated 440 million GBP of gas and electricity stolen from the network each year. Tempted by the prospect of cheaper bills, both commercial and residential energy users are turning to criminality to tamper with meters and artificially reduce their recorded usage — a practice which is both illegal and highly dangerous.

With the number of cases of energy theft on the increase, efforts are being ramped up to stop offenders rigging meters and diverting energy from the grid. Stealing energy isn’t just a matter of monetary theft, but can have detrimental consequences for the building’s occupants, increasing the risk of electrical fire, gas leaks and explosions. 

To raise awareness of the dangers posed by stealing energy, here we take an in-depth look at energy theft, its consequences and how you can identify and report it if you suspect it’s taking place in your building.

How do ‘meter cheaters’ carry out energy theft, and why? 

The simplest form of energy theft is when a meter is tampered with so it no longer records actual consumption, in an attempt to reduce energy bills. This usually involves bypassing the meter so energy can be used without it being logged correctly. 

A growing number of commercial and domestic energy users are taking huge risks while tampering their gas and electricity meters to ultimately try and reduce their annual energy bill.

energy theft prevention

This is deeply concerning, particularly when you consider the fatal consequences of tampering with an energy meter. It’s astonishing that individuals are willing to risk their lives, and the lives of others, to steal gas and power for potentially cheaper energy bills.

However, as energy prices continue to rise, so too does the number of suspected cases of energy theft. Statistics show that 150,000 energy theft cases are investigated each year, with around 1,500 people charged with gas and electricity theft offences. 

What are the consequences of energy theft?

As you’d expect, the consequences of energy theft are far-reaching, particularly when you consider the aspect of safety. Here, we list the potential effects of stealing gas and electricity. 

Safety implications: 

  • If an electricity meter is tampered with, the exposed wiring on the meter itself can cause severe electric shocks and burns. Not only that, but bypassing the meter can result in electric switches and appliances becoming ‘live’, increasing the risk of shock and fire in other areas of the premises. 
  • Electric fires are a very real risk of meter tampering. Exposed wires and poor connections can become extremely hot, to the point where they spark and start fires. This compromises the safety of the entire building, putting you and your colleagues at risk, as well as others. 
  • When gas meters are interfered with, the supply may become damaged, resulting in potentially fatal gas leaks. As fumes build up in a room, they displace the air and could cause headaches or even loss of consciousness.
  • Gas is also highly flammable, and can explode into a fireball when as little as 5% of gas gets mixed into the air. Something as small as flicking a light switch can ignite gas, potentially causing a devastating fireball or a catastrophic explosion.

 Financial and criminal implications:

  • If you’re charged with energy theft, you face a large fine and a criminal record. In some circumstances, you could also be jailed for up to 5 years.
  • For every case of energy theft, it’s estimated that this adds around £20 to every energy bill in the UK.
  • If your energy supplier suspects you have been stealing energy, your supply may be cut off until a thorough investigation can be carried out.
  • In the event of fire or property damage as a result of energy theft, your insurance provider may not pay out if it’s discovered your meter has been tampered with.

How to identify and report energy theft

Given the serious safety implications of a tampered energy meter, it’s important that you know how to identify cases of energy theft, and understand where to report any suspicious activity. Here are a few tips on identifying gas and electricity theft, and how you can report it.

energy theft prevention 

Identifying the signs of electricity theft

While it can be difficult to spot the signs of electricity theft, here are a few things to look out for:

  • A smashed, broken or missing meter casing, which looks like it has been deliberately tampered with to gain entry to the cables inside.
  • Exposed wires and cables, which may be sticking out of the meter casing or connected to the meter by connector clips.
  • Scorch and burn marks on the meter casing, or melted plastic components.
  • On a prepay meter, it may show that credit has run out, even when electricity is still available.
  • Any dials and digits on the meter may not be changing, even when electricity is still in use.
  • A burning smell, smoke or sparks near the meter box.

How to spot the signs of gas theft

Like electricity theft, the signs of gas theft are hard to spot. Here are things to look out for: 

  • The meter may have been turned around the wrong way, so that gas pipes can be reinserted into different inlets. If this is the case, none of the dials will be visible.
  • A gas smell in and around the meter box.
  • Lengths of rubber tubing may be used instead of the original gas pipes, to bypass the system.
  • The meter has no dials or counters.
  • On a prepay meter, it may show that credit has run out, even when there’s gas available.
  • When gas is in use, the dials and counters on the meter may not turn.

How to report energy theft

If you suspect energy theft on your premises or in a neighbouring property, you must report it. You can do so anonymously by calling the stayenergysafe reporting line on 0800 023 2777, or using the service’s online form.

Powered by Crimestoppers and supported by OFGEM, stayenergysafe is a campaign to stop meter cheaters in the UK, who put lives at risk to avoid paying energy bills. To find out more about the campaign and its mission, visit stayenergysafe.co.uk  or call 0800 023 2771. 

For more information about the business energy industry, check out the rest of the Gazprom Energy blog and newsfeed.

The views, opinions and positions expressed within this article are those of our third-party content providers alone and do not represent those of Gazprom Energy. The accuracy, completeness and validity of any statements made within this article are not guaranteed. Gazprom Energy accepts no liability for any errors, omissions or representations.


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