Homeowners ‘risk death’ by tampering with gas meters to cut bills

a prepay electricity key sits in a prepayment electricity meter - Christopher Furlong/Getty Images Europe
a prepay electricity key sits in a prepayment electricity meter - Christopher Furlong/Getty Images Europe

Cash-strapped households are asking engineers to tamper with energy meters to shield themselves from soaring bills.

More than two in five gas and electricity engineers have been asked to interfere with a meter, according to research carried out by insurer Direct Line in March. The increasing cost of energy over the last 18 months, is likely to be driving meter tampering requests, it said.

Roughly a third of tradespeople polled by the insurer said they had noticed signs of interference when carrying out work in bill payers’ homes.

Tampering with an energy meter to make it display incorrectly and possibly lower a home’s energy bill is known as energy theft and is a criminal offence, with a maximum penalty of five years in prison.

The practice also has potentially lethal consequences, warned David Powell, of charity Electrical Safety First.

He said: “Many people are struggling financially but it is never worth putting you or your family at risk. Tampering with meters exposes anyone in your household to electric shocks, burns, fire and even death.”

Direct Line surveyed 150 engineers and found 43pc had been explicitly asked to tamper with an energy meter. Of these 92pc said increased costs had driven households to ask.

Typically employed by drug dealers to avoid arousing suspicion, meter tampering has become increasingly common among households desperate to dodge soaring energy bills.

Reports of meter tampering surged in the wake of the energy crisis, which saw the average annual power bill jump from £1,277 to £2,500 in the space of a year. The number of reports to charity Crimestoppers has trebled since 2017-18.

There were 4,559 reports in the last six months of 2022, an increase of 20pc compared to the first half of the year. Police forces also received more than 3,500 reports of “dishonest use of electricity” in the first half of 2022.

Stolen energy is factored into how much suppliers charge customers, increasing the average household bill by an estimated £50 a year as a result.

Removing a gas or electricity meter without a supplier’s consent is against the Electricity and Gas Acts. Households caught doing so will be billed for any energy used and for replacing the meter.

Ofgem, the energy regulator, said “under no circumstances should consumers attempt to connect electricity meters themselves”.

Alison Traboulsi, of Direct Line, warned landlords their insurance may not cover tenants tampering with meters unless they had taken out specific coverage.

She added: “If your property is damaged, destroyed or someone is hurt as a result of deliberate meter tampering, you won’t be covered by your home insurance.”

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