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Spotting the signs of Energy Theft

Meter Tampering Fire Web

Lloyd Birkhead discusses the growing danger of Energy Theft, the signs of meter tampering and how to prevent this.

Energy theft is a growing problem. While there’s certainly a lot of great work being done within the sector – such as the Theft Risk Assessment Service, the Energy Theft & Tip Off Service, Crimestoppers’ Stay Energy Safe campaign, and through the UK Revenue Protection Association – there is still much to do.

To raise awareness of this crime, we recently commissioned research into energy theft, which revealed a host of worrying findings.

While consumers demonstrate some awareness of energy theft, more than a third (39%) do not realise it poses a life-threatening safety risk, this could be why 1 in 4 would be happy to turn a blind eye. Additionally, only one in four people (25%) feel confident in their ability to spot the signs of a tampered meter, meaning many instances will go unnoticed.

Considering this, as well as supply license commitments to Ofgem to alleviate the issue, it’s clear a more collaborative approach to tackling the problem is needed.

Greater involvement from consumers

While an overwhelming majority (97%) of consumers believe energy theft is wrong, only 19% attribute this opinion to safety concerns. Therefore, doing more to explain the dangers associated with energy theft could have a real impact on tackling this damaging perception, and decrease the number of potential non-reporters. It could also help diminish the success of those who offer consumers a tamper (to reduce their bills) for a fee.

More must be done to educate the public on how they can go about spotting a tamper themselves. Not only could this increase the number of tip-offs, it may also stimulate greater public interest in how they can support our efforts – 86% of consumers said they’d support greater action.

Reporting rates could be increased by alerting people to be on the look-out at key moments. Given that consumers/landlords are most likely to spot energy theft during a move into or out of a property – either owned or rented - we need to work particularly closely with landlords, tenants and homeowners to raise awareness of inherited meter tampers.

Swift and efficient detection is key

While ongoing sector pressures – such as the smart meter rollout – admittedly take up invaluable technical resource, swift action to investigate all leads is crucial. This is why, in order to ensure rapid response of reported leads, Grosvenor recently pushed for an agreement with the UK courts for a two day warrant process (12 day reduction from the standard process) as warrants are, unfortunately, sometimes a necessary last resort.

Given ongoing resource constraints, it’s worth considering all avenues for swift detection. Technical resource is, of course, necessary to change and make safe a tampered meter, but it’s also worth considering the ancillary issues surrounding a tamper. In these areas, such as customer engagement, back billing, collecting debt and managing potential conflict, non-technical resource can be the best option.

Indeed, we estimate that up to 75% of visits could be handled by non-technical resource, such as customer engagement or field collections specialists.

It’s time to act

We must do more to detect energy theft. This means working with the public to increase awareness and support, doing more to educate people around the financial and safety risks of meter tampering, making a concerted effort to raise the profile through media relations, and proactively publicising and championing our victories in the fight against energy thieves.

We’ve already seen the deadly consequences of energy theft on multiple occasions, and yet it still flies under the radar. If greater action is not taken, I fear we may be due a devastating wake-up call.

- Lloyd

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