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In a first for the crime reporting line charity Crimestoppers, it’s launched a dedicated service for the public to report energy related crime.
With 150,000 cases of energy theft investigated every year, the charity aims to inform the public of the consequences of energy theft and appeal for information.
Crimestoppers has partnered with the industry to launch Stay Energy Safe, to host an anonymous reporting service for the public to report energy crime. This follows rule changes by energy regulator Ofgem that require the industry to clamp down on energy theft.
The new service urges landlords, tenants, businesses and the public to report any suspicions or evidence of crime, via the website, or on the dedicated number, 0800 023 2777. Crimestoppers is working with all 96 of the UK’s energy providers and distributors to launch this dedicated energy crime hotline and urge the public to provide information.
Ofgem states that the reported cost of energy theft to the UK public is around £440m a year; enough to power over 400,000 homes.
However, tampered and bypassed meters are costing the UK more than money, the authorities warn. The risk to life and property is real, as some seek new ways to cheat the system.
One reported incident in Glasgow saw an elderly, house-bound woman die following a fire caused by a meter that had been tampered with by her son, who also lived in the house. She died of smoke inhalation, and he was prosecuted. The energy company in question then visited other flats in the block of eight and found another four with a similar type of by-pass.
Around 1500 people in the UK are charged by the police for energy theft each year. If found guilty, they are likely to have to pay back the value of energy stolen, plus the costs of the investigation. But the outcome can also include community service, or even a prison sentence of up to five years.
In one incident, an energy supplier was called in by police to help investigate a restaurant that was still trading, despite having had its electricity cut off since 2013. It was found that five other properties owned by the same person had recently been raided, revealing a number of dangerous activities:
An illegal fuse carrier had been attached to an electricity meter with crocodile clips –resulting in a burnt meter box.
A gas meter had been illegally removed, which resulted in the restaurant being evacuated and secured.
A water valve had been installed in the ground to illegally divert the supply; and
A gas flue had been redirected to the inside of the building – which meant that everyone inside had been in serious danger of carbon monoxide poisoning.
The restaurant was shut down, and the police arrested the restaurant owner for energy theft and other offences, including possession of stolen goods and growing cannabis. It is incidents like the ones above, potentially resulting in fatal consequences, which Crimestoppers and the energy industry are asking for the public’s help to reduce.
Crimestoppers Chief Executive, Mark Hallas, says: “It’s no exaggeration to say that this is a ground-breaking agreement that we have forged with the energy industry to ensure that crimes such as meter tampering are clamped down on.
“This isn’t just about supporting the industry, though, it’s about our duty to the communities we work with. Explosions and fires as a result of energy theft can be devastating, which is why we are running this service on behalf of the industry, to ensure our streets are safe.”
Ofgem’s Chief Executive Dermot Nolan says: “Energy theft costs the UK hundreds of millions of pounds each year and puts people’s lives at risk. This is why we’re working with the energy industry to clamp down on this crime. The hotline will be an important tool to help end this offense. We are urging the public to use it, and pull the plug on energy theft once and for all.”
Paul Fuller, Chief Fire Officer for Bedfordshire Fire and Rescue, is supporting this campaign having seen the devastation a fire can have as a result of a tampered meter. He says: “We had a near fatal case of energy theft in Bedfordshire earlier this year when a flat in a high rise had a tampered meter, thankfully nobody was injured, but they could have been.
“I’m keen to back this service being launched by Crimestoppers because I’ve seen first-hand the impact a fire can have as a result of a tampered meter, and any means to prevent this from happening, I wholeheartedly support.”
To report an incident of energy crime call the Energy Safe reporting service on 0800 023 2777 or fill out an anonymous, non-traceable form.