Energy theft, or meter cheating as it is commonly referred to, is a major issue that concerns many energy suppliers in the UK and an estimated £400,000,000 in energy is reported to be stolen every year. But the issue doesn’t only affect energy suppliers, but customers as well since theft could add up to £20 to an average energy bill. But what are the risks associated with energy theft and what can you do to identify and counteract energy theft if you think you’re a victim?
How Does it Work Exactly?
To be able to counteract meter cheating, you have to understand how it’s done first. The main practice of meter cheating involves modifying the wiring in a way that circumvents energy meters to gain access to energy that is not properly recorded, measured, or paid for. There have been numerous methods that businesses and normal residents have used to avoid meters, all as dangerous as they’re creative.
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One example is people installing their own pipes illegally, sometimes using things as unsafe as bicycle inner tubes or hosepipes to bypass meters and avoid energy consumption from being measured.
But what’s more common is people tampering with the meters instead. They often do so by removing a cog that is usually used to record energy consumption when it turns. Without this mechanism working properly, the meter can’t be calibrated, and the thief gets to enjoy a free flow of unmonitored energy straight to their property or residence.
There are also large-scale operations when thieves have dug up channels under main roads to access the main supply. In these cases, ordinary customers would be the victim and the thieves would syphon energy that other customers are paying for straight from the main supply.
What Are the Risks Associated with Energy Theft?
The dangers associated with energy theft extend way beyond higher energy costs. Tampering with a meter could lead to serious physical and property damage. And these risks can not only affect the thieves themselves, but the general public as well.
Electricity and gas plays a central role in our everyday lives and when things as crucial as power supplies are handled by untrained professionals, the consequences can be disastrous. Tampering with electrical and gas equipment can leave businesses and homes with unsafe supplies, which can result in electrical shocks, fires, burns and even explosions in the most extreme cases. An insecure gas supply could cause fires and exposed wires can be major fire hazards. And all it takes is about a 5% gas concentration in the air to lead to an explosion, and gas explosions can destroy entire premises and even lead to serious damage to surrounding properties.
How Will I Know if I or Someone Around Me is a Victim of Electricity Theft?
There are tell-tale signs of electricity theft that everyone should be looking for in case they suspect their supply or their neighbours’ supply is being tampered with. For example, if you notice that the meter’s casing has been broken, smashed or completely removed with disconnected wires, then it might be a sign of tampering. Wires wrapped around or sticking out that are attached to the meter with connector clips are another clear sign. If you notice that some parts of the plastic casing have melted, or notice burn or scorch marks on the meter, smell something burning or even see sparks or smoke near the meter box, this is a sure sign of tampering. Also, if you see dials that are staying immobile even when electricity is being used, this should be cause for concern.
What About Gas Theft?
While spotting signs of gas theft might be a bit more tricky, there are some things that you can be on the lookout for as well. If you see a meter that has been turned in a way that hinders you from seeing the normal dials, then it’s a clear sign that something is going on. If you ever get a gas smell near or around the meter box, then this is also a sign that someone may have been tampered with it.
If instead of pipes, you see some rubber tubing in crucial areas, then that’s also something that could indicate energy theft. If there is no visible counter or dial on the meter, if gas is still available but the meter is showing that credit has run out, or the meter’s dials aren’t moving even if gas is being consumed, then you should alert the authorities immediately.
What Should I Do if I Suspect That Energy Theft is Happening?
There are plenty of ways that you can anonymously report energy theft if you suspect you or someone in your neighbourhood is a victim. One of the ways you can do so is by contacting the Stay Energy Safe emergency line at 0800 023 2777. You can also complete an anonymous report form on the Stay Energy Safe website.
Meter cheating is a serious issue that shouldn’t be taken lightly. If you suspect someone is either tampering with your meter or the meter of someone in your neighbourhood, make sure that you contact the authorities immediately.
Images by Amélie Labourdette – Doppelgänger by KARST architecture