Earlier this year, the BBC’s regional investigations programme, Inside Out, exposed the criminal gangs that help property owners to avoid paying their energy bills – sometimes for as little as just £10. According to the BBC show, unofficial meddlers in London can tamper with up to 15 meters a day, raising the price of the average business’s electricity by at least £20 a year.
Endangering lives to save a few quid
Fiddling with meters is no minor offence. On top of forcing paying customers to bear the extra costs that energy thieves avoid, these cowboy ‘engineers’ put people at extreme risk.
Only last year, a whole house was destroyed in a suspected gas explosion in Sheffield, injuring two adults and two children. After evacuating the nearby homes and consulting with our own head of revenue protection, police found seven cases of suspected energy theft in the same street of just 20 houses.
Our energy theft investigators, told the BBC, ‘We find trends where people go around estates and tamper with meters. They’re not putting themselves at risk: if something happened there it’s all the adjoining properties and everyone in there that’s going to be affected by a potential explosion.’
That’s why our Revenue Protection Unit is important. Just recently, for example, two of our officers discovered a takeaway shop that was shirking a huge energy bill.
Fast food, swift justice
On a visit to a Staffordshire kebab shop that showed suspiciously low energy consumption for its long opening hours, our Revenue Protection officers found an intact seal on the electric meter’s terminal cover. But it didn’t take them long to see what was wrong with the picture.
The seal was stamped with ‘Manweb’, an energy supplier that covers a completely different area.
After a quick phone call, the real local supplier arrived at the shop to help the two officers investigate. Removing the cover on the meter, they quickly saw what had happened.
The internal links that register energy usage had been individually tampered with. Which meant that, no matter how much energy the shop actually used, only a very small percentage was ever being properly recorded by the meter
The shop owner rejected any allegations and denied all knowledge of any tampering. But he said too much when he claimed he’d only recently bought the business from a family member. A quick check with Companies House and the officers’ local support unit exposed the hole in his story, and he quickly admitted to being the true owner.
Keen to stay connected and keep his business running, the customer promptly paid the assessment of £29,677 without revealing who’d been messing with his meter. He’s currently under investigation by the police, while the two Revenue Protection officers are checking up on other takeaways in the area.