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What is energy theft and how to report it

Do you suspect your neighbour of energy theft? We’ve got the scoop on what to look out for and how to handle the situation safely and effectively. 

Do you suspect your neighbour of energy theft? We’ve got the scoop on what to look out for and how to handle the situation safely and effectively. 

Sofia Hutson
Utilities expert
6
minute read
Do you know someone who could benefit from this article?
Last Updated 6 FEBRUARY 2022

What is energy theft?

Energy theft involves someone intentionally stealing gas or electricity, or paying less than they should do by tampering with or bypassing their own meter. It might have never crossed your mind, but it’s estimated that energy theft is costing UK energy suppliers around £440 million a year and inevitably those costs get passed on down to you, the customer. That breaks down to roughly £20 per household added to your energy bill because of these crimes.

Energy theft isn’t just a financial issue, it’s also dangerous. Energy theft can cause injury, and in severe cases, even death.

That’s because electricity theft often leaves wires exposed, which can cause fatal electric shocks, start fires and even trigger explosions. If a gas meter is tampered with it can cause gas leaks, which could risk explosions and fires.

With that in mind, investigating potential energy theft in your own home should be approached with extreme caution. In fact, it’s far better to let the authorities deal with it instead.

How can I tell if someone is stealing my electricity?

Keep an eye on your bills. If you notice that your usage starts to increase without any other explanation, there’s a chance that someone is stealing your electricity.

However, it’s important to first rule out other reasons for a high energy bill.

If energy theft is indeed to blame, there’ll often be other signs. These may include:

  • Changes to your wiring. Take a look at the wire that runs between your meter and your house (don’t touch it!). If you notice anything odd, like extra wires or connector clips, there’s a chance that someone’s tampered with it. Also, be on the look-out for any wires connecting your home to your neighbour’s.
  • Damage to your meter. Look out for things like scorch or burn marks, a burning smell, loose or strange wiring, or even sparks. This is a strong indication that your meter has been tampered with.
  • Your meter acting strangely. If your meter keeps running even after you switch off your circuit breakers, it’s an indication that something is taking power from between the electric panel and the meter itself. If the numbers on the dial are moving the wrong way, or not at all, this could be a sign that someone has tampered with your meter.
  • Sparks and shocks in the home. If you’re seeing sparks from sockets in your home, or getting electric shocks from appliances, your taps, bath or shower, it could be linked to electricity theft.

If you smell smoke, see fire or your meter is smoking or sparking consistently, call 999 immediately and ask for the fire service.

How can I tell if my gas meter has been tampered with?

Some of the signs of tampering with a gas supply or meter according to stayenergysafe are:

  • A smell of gas around your meter or in your home.
  • The meter has been turned around the wrong way.
  • There are rubber tubes instead of proper piping.
  • A dial isn't visible on the meter.
  • The dials don't turn even when gas is being used.
  • The meter shows no credit but the gas is still working.

You may also notice more subtle signs, like the flames on your hob or fire changing colour, from blue to yellow, or changing size. Your pilot light may go out more often too.

Gas leaks are extremely dangerous. Leaking gas fumes inside your home can cause headaches and lead to loss of consciousness, and because gas is highly flammable, it can also lead to explosions.

See our guide to what to do if you smell gas.

How to report energy theft

It’s important to alert the relevant authorities because energy theft can make meters unsafe. You can get the ball rolling by:

  • Submitting an anonymous tip-off online, via the stayenergysafe website or call stayenergysafe on 0800 023 2777 – you are guaranteed 100% anonymity.
  • Once a report has been made, the relevant energy supplier will be notified. The meter will then be inspected and removed, or exchanged if a problem is found.
  • Contacting your energy supplier directly, to report the issue. You should find their contact details on your bill. Find out who supplies your energy.
  • Calling the UK Revenue Protection Association (UKRPA) on 0207 090 1070 or completing their online fraud report form.
  • Calling the Citizens Advice consumer helpline on 0808 223 1133 or use their online contact form.

Who’s most at risk from energy theft?

Unfortunately, nobody’s completely safe. Any home or business could potentially be a victim of energy theft, whether you’re in the city or in a small countryside village. According to stayenergysafe, 150,000 cases of energy theft are investigated each year – and that’s just the ones that get reported.

What are the penalties for energy theft?

Around 1,500 people are charged with energy theft every year. The penalties vary according to the severity of the crime. Some offenders face a fine of £2,000, but more serious offender may face huge fines and prison time. Some examples of punishments handed out by courts include a pub landlord who was charged with manslaughter, and sentenced to nine years in prison, after his energy theft led to the tragic death of a young boy, and a London man being fined £50,000 and sent to prison for damaging the power supply to more than 15,000 homes, according to stayenergysafe.

Switching energy suppliers

Of course, a big energy bill doesn’t always mean you’re having energy stolen. It might be time to switch to a new energy supplier for a better tariff. Compare the Market can help you find energy plans from a range of trusted UK energy suppliers. All you have to do is give us a few details and click for a quote. So why not see if you can save today?

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Frequently asked question

Who would steal my energy?

If someone is stealing the electricity or gas from your home it’s likely to be either your neighbour, your landlord or your tenant – someone close by who can benefit from your energy supply. In some cases, it might even be a well-meaning family member or friend, trying to save you money on your bills. Energy theft is not always malicious; it could be a last resort for people who are struggling with bills, but it is not a victimless crime. Because of the dangerous, and potentially life-threatening consequences, it’s important to report it.

If you or someone you know is struggling with energy costs, read our guide on what to do if you can’t afford to pay your energy bills.

How can I report energy theft anonymously?

The organisation stayenergysafe works with Crimestoppers to make sure your tip remains anonymous. You won’t have to provide any personal details, they won’t record your phone call and they won’t be able to see your phone number or your location.

What should I do if I can’t access my gas or electric meter?

If you want to check your gas or electric meter for signs of tampering but it’s locked up, don’t let that deter you. Speak to your landlord or letting agent or local council housing agent and ask them to give you the key. If you’re concerned about a burning smell, hot wires or sparks, don’t delay, contact your local network operator immediately and ask for an emergency appointment. Unlike your energy supplier, network operators look after different areas of the energy network. If you’re not sure who your network operator is, Energy Networks can help you find yours by postcode.

Who do I contact if my meter is damaged?

If you have a damaged electric meter, you can call 105 to reach your local network operator’s emergency helpline. They should be able to help or point you in the right direction.

If your gas meter is damaged it could be extremely dangerous. Call the National Grid gas emergency line on 0800 111 999 as soon as you can.