Unlike most other goods, gas and electricity are delivered to you without the supplier being present. Suppliers cannot see what you are doing with their meter or with the fuel they have supplied. This makes suppliers vulnerable to theft. This can occur from bypassing a meter completely or fixing it to run slower, interfering with wires, connecting to the network directly or using a supply without informing the supplier so that actual usage rates cannot be measured or recorded. Perhaps because of this vulnerability, suppliers sometimes make allegations of theft on quite flimsy evidence. The consequences of such allegations against you can be severe, as a supplier has the power to disconnect your supply without having to go to court to prove the allegations first.
Theft from, or tampering with, a meter are criminal offences and can result in both criminal prosecution and civil proceedings to recover the alleged debt. However, it is important to realise that not in every case of alleged tampering will you necessarily have to pay for damage or alleged stolen fuel.
A full discussion of criminal law and practice is outside the scope of this book. If you might be liable for prosecution, seek specialist legal advice on your position and how to respond.
If you are legally liable to pay for any loss caused by theft or tampering, a supplier or transporter may be entitled to disconnect the supply, although this right does not follow automatically from liability (see here). There are a number of regulatory arrangements in place which require suppliers to detect, investigate and prevent theft of electricity and gas.1Condition 12A SLC While doing so, suppliers must still ensure that they treat customers fairly and take into account vulnerability. By ‘vulnerability’, the regulations mean customers who are of pensionable age, disabled or chronically sick or if the customers will have difficulty in paying all or part of the charges resulting from any theft of fuel.2Condition 12A.1(b)(ii) SLC Both gas and electricity suppliers have implemented a centralised theft risk assessment service to tackle this issue.3Condition 12A SLC ElectraLink is the duel fuel energy theft risk assessment service provider. The aim of the theft risk assessment service is to provide a data analytics service. This will help assist suppliers’ efforts to detect theft by using data to profile the risk of gas or electricity theft at premises. When taking any steps, suppliers and any representatives are required to treat you ’in a manner which is fair, transparent, not misleading, appropriate and professional’.4Condition 12A.1(b)(i) SLC