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What is energy theft and how can you report it?

Energy theft not only increases household bills, it’s also extremely dangerous. Someone meddling with your meters, wires and pipes could put you and your family at risk. The good news is that if you suspect someone of stealing your energy, you can report it anonymously.

Energy theft not only increases household bills, it’s also extremely dangerous. Someone meddling with your meters, wires and pipes could put you and your family at risk. The good news is that if you suspect someone of stealing your energy, you can report it anonymously.

Written by
Sajni Shah
Utilities comparison expert
Last Updated
10 MARCH 2023
5 min read
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What is electricity theft?

Electricity theft involves someone intentionally stealing electricity, or paying less than they should by tampering with or bypassing their own meter. 

It might never have crossed your mind, but the Home Office says that there were 3,600 reports of ‘dishonest use of electricity’ in England and Wales in the 12 months to March 2022 – the highest since records began. 

It’s estimated that energy theft is costing UK energy suppliers around £440 million a year and inevitably those costs get passed on to consumers. 

Electricity theft isn’t just a financial issue, it’s also dangerous. It 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. 

With that in mind, investigating potential electricity 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 to tell if someone is stealing your electricity

You’ll first be able to tell if someone is stealing electricity from your meter by looking at your bill. 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 theft of electricity is indeed to blame, there’ll often be other clues. Signs that someone is stealing your electricity may include:

  • Changes to your wiring – take a look at the wire that runs between your meter and your house (but 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 of a tampered electric 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?

As well as electricity theft, gas can be stolen too – some of the signs of tampering with a gas supply or meter, according to energy charity Stay Energy Safe, are:

  • A smell of gas around your meter or in your home
  • A meter turned around the wrong way
  • Rubber tubes instead of proper piping
  • No visible dial on the meter
  • Dials not turning, even when gas is being used
  • No credit showing on the meter but the gas is still working.

You may also notice more subtle signs of gas theft, 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 someone stealing electricity and gas

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 Stay Energy Safe website or by calling Stay Energy Safe on 0800 023 2777 – you’re 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.

Other options include:

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.

Energy regulator Ofgem has set out rules that require energy suppliers to play an active role in detecting, investigating and preventing the theft of electricity. But everyone needs to be on their guard against energy theft, especially amid the cost-of-living crisis when people may be driven to take drastic measures to save money on their bills.

What are the penalties for energy theft?

Tampering with a utility meter is a criminal offence. The penalties vary according to the severity of the crime. Some offenders face a fine of £2,000, but anyone found guilty of a more serious offence may face huge fines and a prison sentence of up to five years.  

Some examples of electricity theft punishments handed out by UK courts include a pub landlord who was jailed for manslaughter after his energy theft led to the 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. In Scotland, a man caught bypassing an electric meter to save money ended up causing his mother’s death after an electrical spark caused a fire, Stay Energy Safe reports.

Frequently asked questions

Who would steal my energy?

If someone is stealing the electricity or gas from your home, it’s likely to be either a neighbour, landlord or 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’s 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 Stay Energy Safe 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, 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.

Can smart meters detect electricity theft?

Potentially, yes. Smart meters record energy consumption and report back to the supplier in real-time. This means they can detect unusual patterns of behaviour. The data can arm energy companies with better intelligence that they can use to investigate anything that seems suspicious – just as a bank would take action if it detected unusual spending patterns on your debit card.

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