A record number of people stole electricity in England and Wales last year, according to new figures released by the Home Office.
Police forces received 3,600 reports of “dishonest use of electricity” in the 12 months to March 2022, an increase of 13 percent on the previous year and the highest level since records began in 2013.
The average annual UK gas and electricity bill rose from £1,400 in October 2021 to £2,000, after the government removed a price cap, which limited how much suppliers could charge customers.
Another hefty rise is expected in October 2022.
It was originally predicted average energy bills could reach £2,800 in the autumn but the latest forecast is £3,358.
Last month former Chancellor Rishi Sunak, who is battling Foreign Secretary Liz Truss to become the new leader of the Conservative Party, promised to scrap VAT on domestic fuel bills next year if he becomes prime minister.
He said: “With the price cap expected to rise above £3,000 in October, I will move immediately to scrap VAT on everyone’s domestic energy bills for the next year, saving the average household £160.”
Truss has not spelled out any concrete measures on the cost of living crisis but said this week: “As Prime Minister, I’d use an emergency Budget to kickstart my plan to get our economy growing and offer immediate help to people struggling with their bills.”
Peter Smith, the director of policy and advocacy at the National Energy Action campaign group, said: “This is not only illegal but dangerous too, and it’s horrifying if the crisis is forcing households to try this to keep the lights on. And this is happening now, before winter and the cold weather hits.”
Almost a third—1,100—of the thefts occurred between January and March, double the number recorded over the previous two winters.
Smith said: “More support is desperately needed to close this gap and help the most vulnerable keep themselves warm and safe this winter.”
Electricity theft is usually carried out by tampering with the supply or bypassing a meter, and it is extremely hazardous.
The maximum punishment in law is five years in prison but in 57 percent of cases last year no suspect was identified and only seven percent resulted in someone being charged or summonsed.
A spokesman for the Office of Gas and Electricity Markets said: “Under no circumstances should consumers attempt to connect electricity meters themselves.”
A government spokesman told PA it was providing £37 billion to help households with the cost of living and added: “We are committed to cracking down on crime, including the criminal theft of electricity, which causes serious injury to people and damage to property.”
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