Accuracy of meters and estimates of stolen fuel
In cases of alleged tampering or theft of fuel, suppliers will try to recover the cost of fuel stolen by estimating the consumption during the period of tampering or theft. This often leads to a dispute about whether or not a meter has recorded consumption accurately. Either party can refer the matter for consideration to a meter examiner (see here).
If the consumption of fuel has been under-recorded, whether because of tampering or otherwise, extra charges will be due. Suppliers will claim that, since the meter has been tampered with, consumption must be estimated. If you dispute an estimate and want to challenge it, ask the supplier what assumptions and calculations were used. Just because a meter has been tampered and interfered with, it does not necessarily mean that fuel was successfully stolen – the onus is upon the supplier to prove that it was. There are various ways in which suppliers estimate consumption. One measure is to compare your consumption during the period of tampering with your normal rate of consumption, either before the meter was interfered with or after its replacement. The comparison should be over a period of at least a year, to produce an accurate figure, as consumption tends to increase in winter.
This method may not be appropriate in your case because, for example, your pattern of consumption has changed, or you have recently moved home, or because the supplier claims tampering began after the meter was last read or inspected. There is another method, based on the number and type of appliances you use. Suppliers make assumptions about the running costs of appliances and how often you use them. Look at the findings critically to see if they bear any relationship to your actual usage. Suppliers sometimes assume the existence of appliances which you do not actually have, or that you use the appliances you do have for maximum periods of time and at maximum settings.1Appliance running cost calculator: Also note when the supplier is alleging that any tampering began. Evidence of tampering may be clear, but not the start date or the period during which it took place. For example, the more times the meter has been read, the less likely it is that tampering would not have been noticed by a meter reader, which shortens the period during which the tampering is likely to have started. Under condition 12 of the Standard Licence Conditions (SLCs), the supplier must take all reasonable steps to prevent and detect:2Condition 12.1(a)-(c) SLC
•the theft or abstraction of electricity at premises supplied; and
•damage to any electrical plant, electric line or metering equipment through which such premises are supplied with electricity; and
•interference with any metering equipment through which such premises are supplied with electricity.
Under condition 12A SLC, suppliers must take all reasonable steps to detect, investigate and prevent theft or abstraction of gas or electricity. As a result, all electricity suppliers must inform the owner of a meter if they detect or suspect any signs of tampering.3Condition 12A SLC Suppliers must also behave in a fair, transparent, appropriate, professional and truthful matter in executing these obligations.4Condition 12A.1(b) SLC Performance of these obligations are undertaken by supplier’s ‘revenue protection units’ – specialist departments designed to detect and handle cases of fuel theft and abstraction If a meter examiner has been called in, s/he will decide the amount of extra fuel you should be charged for. You can instruct your own electrical expert (look for an ‘electrical engineer’ or consult Ofgem for licensed meter companies) to undertake an independent examination and assessment for you. See Chapter 14 for other methods of solving disputes about charges.