Energy Theft in the UK – A growing concern amidst soaring cost of living prices

The last 18 months have brought many challenges to the UK, and the cost of living has undoubtedly been one of the biggest. We’ve all noticed the impact of rising prices, whether it’s at the supermarket or when we’re buying our train tickets. The most significant headlines however seem to have been reserved for increases in energy prices. Ofgem’s Energy Price Cap, which was introduced in 2019, had only really benefitted those customers that never switch supplier, but was now the only price available on the market slowing down the rate of switching and reducing competition. The Energy Price Guarantee was introduced in October 2022 which limits the amount that can be charged by Energy Suppliers. Alongside this, the Energy Bills Support Scheme was introduced giving every household £400 off their electricity bill.

Energy costs have continued to dominate headlines with stories of bills more than doubling and businesses being forced to close as fixed price deals came to end. For many, the percentage of their income spent on energy has also dramatically increased. We have seen the use of pre-payment meters questioned and Ofgem intervening to prevent the forced installation of them, although this still remains for those consumers who want it, it remains a good method budgeting and avoiding getting into debt.

The rising costs may lead to consumers being tempted to tamper with their gas and electricity meters in an effort to reduce their bills. This is where the UKRPA and its members can see the impact of the costs of living increases. Theft from these tamper events is not only illegal but extremely dangerous. When meters are tampered with, wires and pipes can be damaged, leading to serious injury and even death through electrocution and explosion.

In December a report from the Retail Energy Code Company estimated that the theft of gas and electricity costs consumers up to £1.4 Billion a year. This alone adds up to £50 on every consumer’s bill.

With all these consumer pressures, what impact on energy theft have we seen at the UKRPA from the activity of our members? Our Energy Fraud reporting service covers the whole of Great Britain and Northern Ireland, providing valuable leads to energy companies of suspected tamper events. We have seen a steady increase in the volume of reports to this service, which is a concerning trend. Working with Crimestoppers we know they have seen similar increases in reported events to their report line and website which covers England, Scotland and Wales. This is borne out from the reports we have from members who are seeing large increases in the amount of suspected tamper events they are attending.

Worryingly, we are also seeing increased numbers of consumers that all falling foul of scams that encourage them to remove or replace their meters. The scammers are at a cost carrying out these removals under false pretences, claiming that it will allow them to receive free energy without the need for an Energy Supplier. Not only is this untrue but can lead to dangerous situations endangering life and property.

Social media is an easy platform for spreading false messages, and at the UKRPA we have reported sites that are encouraging illegal activities and we are looking at how we can be more effective going forward working to close down these messages before people are scammed or led to dangerous and illegal activities.

It is likely we have not seen the peak of the impacts yet as people naturally use more energy and build up more debt during the winter months. As government support comes to an end for many, we may also see more people being tempted to tamper with their meters, although there is the prospect of falling wholesale prices putting a brake on future price rises. The message from the UKRPA and its members remains clear, meter tampering is illegal and extremely dangerous, putting not only yourself but your family and neighbours at risk. We urge everyone to report any suspected events of tampering to the UKRPA or Crimestoppers. If you find yourself in a situation where you are struggling to pay your energy bills please reach out for help to your supplier, Citizens Advice or Citizens Advice Scotland or one of the many charities and support lines that can help you.

Glenn Sheern, UKRPA Chairman