MONITORING & METERING FEATURE Rewiring our approach to energy theft

Lloyd Birkhead, group managing director at utility revenue protection and field service specialists, Grosvenor Services Group, looks at how to best tackle energy theft


nergy theft is a financial drain for the energy sector and consumers alike -

equating to £400 million worth of stolen gas and electricity every year and £20 extra on each annual customer bill. However, more importantly, it poses a serious threat to public safety. Tampering with an energy meter can

cause electric shocks, fires, life- threatening gas explosions and, as it stands, is responsible for one death or serious injury every 10 days in the UK. While the sector is taking positive steps

to combat the crime, the reality is that a proportion of meter tampers remain both undetected and unreported. Our recent research found a widespread

lack of consumer understanding around energy theft, as well as worryingly low report rates. More must therefore be done to focus efforts on raising public awareness around meter tampering and stressing the importance of exposing suspected cases.

RAISING REPORT RATES While many energy theft leads are detected through anomalies in property consumption data, leads from the general public are also a vital source of intelligence and in our experience can draw attention to over a quarter of total suspected cases as it stands today. However, currently, this crime is

underreported by consumers. According to our research, one in four people would turn a blind eye to instances of meter tampering, despite 92 per cent agreeing that the practice is morally wrong. Clearly, with such a significant percentage of the population currently not attuned to supporting efforts to report energy theft, this makes tackling the issue a challenge. Finding ways to covert non-reporters could be a focus area that could make a significant difference. How can we go about achieving this?

• Highlight anonymous reporting options: Our research highlighted that the main reason for people not reporting energy theft is because they are worried about the potential personal repercussions of doing so. For this reason, we must all work harder to promote the confidentiality of report helplines. This will also help individuals that currently feel unable to alert relevant authorities because they don’t know how, or to whom, they should do it. • Raise awareness of the safety risks:

energy companies are available to investigate suspected cases as quickly as possible to avoid potential casualties. This can prove difficult due to meter engineer time constraints caused in large by the pressing smart meter rollout, but in reality it isn’t always necessary for technical engineers to attend all callouts. In fact, in our experience, non-

technical revenue protection field officers can actually carry out 75 per cent of energy theft investigations as effectively as engineers. Using these teams to handle all except the most complex cases (the majority of incidences), also provides a far more cost-effective solution for energy companies. Engineers can then be called in where necessary.

We found that more than a third (39 per cent) of consumers claim to be oblivious to the life-threatening consequences of energy theft. Creating and sharing greater amounts of specific safety messaging could help to solve this – for example, issuing informative letters and emails to targeted groups. Collaborating with local media is also an invaluable resource worth exploring more frequently. Urging local publications to write about the problem will enable the issue to reach a much larger audience. • Stress the consequences: Despite the fact that energy theft perpetrators can face fines and up to five years in prison, one in 10 people told us they would not report a tampered meter because they didn’t think it would result in any serious consequences. This perception needs to be altered. It is vital that energy theft arrests and convictions are highlighted wherever possible – for example through social media platforms or websites – whilst stressing how these convictions help prevent potentially life-threatening injuries. In a broader sense, this raises the questions whether harsher punishments are needed; to better reflect the danger meter tampering poses to the public and make people more aware of its threat. These tactics could help convert up to 63 per cent of non-reporters.

SPOTTING A TAMPER While increasing report rates is a major priority, it is equally important that


COLLABORATION IS KEY Given that our research found that 75 per cent of people would not know how to identify a tampered meter, further public education is clearly key. This could involve the sector

becoming more involved within communities; holding awareness sessions that demonstrate the tell-tale signs of tampering and distributing ‘how to’ guides. Building up strong relationships with

stakeholders, such as estate agents and local authorities, is another worthwhile avenue to explore. By contacting these companies and educating them on how to spot the signs of energy theft, they can then spread the word about meter tampering to both residents and employees tasked with property checks.

WHAT DOES THE FUTURE HOLD? Going forward, if the sector further strengthens its approach to tackling energy theft, focusing particularly on raising public awareness around the crime, our chances of preventing future cases occurring will be greatly increased. Not only will this reduce the energy

stolen every year, it will also help address the important issue of the threat to public safety. While we have a duty to investigate

theft, we have a moral obligation to save lives. This is why we need to ensure our efforts to combat energy theft are as effective as they can be.

Grosvenor Services Group


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