Energy theft: how suppliers can avoid a damaging false economy

150,000 cases of suspected energy theft and abstraction cost the UK £440 million each year. But, as our research found, 86% of energy companies nationwide are falling short of Ofgem targets to tackle the crime.

Measures to combat the issue are often not prioritised, given that deploying revenue protection teams to investigate energy theft can be seen as taxing on both resource and budget. In an attempt to keep tamper investigations cost-neutral, some suppliers are engaging in a damaging false economy, which doesn’t focus on the bigger picture.

In the long-run, investigating and resolving cases of energy theft brings financial benefit through both recovering monies already owed and preventing future losses. However, what’s more concerning is that, despite the severe safety risks the practice presents, some are prioritising financial concerns above a social responsibility to tackle the crime and keep the communities they serve safe.

This crime is not only financially detrimental to both energy suppliers and honest bill paying customers, but also potentially fatal. In some form, energy theft leads to a death or serious injury every 10 days in the UK, due to electric shocks and, in the case of gas theft, large explosions are a real risk.

It’s time that the sector placed the issue of energy theft higher on its priority list, but how can this be done?


Managing resources

Our research uncovered that 86% of billpayers believe energy companies should be doing more to combat the issue of energy theft. The UKRPA has encouraged collaboration between suppliers to detect theft and abstraction.

Energy businesses have scope to be smarter with regards to investigation resourcing. The majority of investigations do not require the technical know-how of an engineer. In fact, work with Grosvenor Services Group proved that 75% of cases can be investigated by non-technical resource – with the same, or even better, outcomes.

Following this approach allows engineers to focus solely on more complex cases and can generate significant long-term savings for suppliers.


Educating communities

A huge factor in proactively reducing meter tampering is education on the serious safety risks it presents – the nature of which more than a third of the public are oblivious to. It’s a concerning figure that the industry is working to reduce; Crimestoppers set up its Stay Energy Safe campaign to highlight the dangers of theft and provide communities with the resources to spot incidences.

Our study found that 44% of people would be apprehensive to report energy theft due to worries about potential repercussions. Raising customer awareness of advice and resources available to them, such as the UKRPA’s reporting service and the Crimestoppers anonymous tip off line, is a good way of reducing this figure.

From an industry standpoint, energy suppliers also have a unique opportunity to engage with customers to highlight the issue. PR, social media interaction and email campaigns are potentially rewarding mediums to explore, to spread understanding and increase knowledge of the risks of energy theft. Just 14% of people recalled seeing media coverage related to energy theft in the last year. Increased exposure is imperative to embed the issue in the public consciousness.


Looking to the future 

Energy theft is a growing issue which must be challenged – a considered approach to education is required to equip communities with the knowledge to detect and report incidences. Working proactively to engage with customers will simultaneously improve suppliers’ reputation and prevent crime before it occurs.

Additionally, the suppliers that look to innovate with implementation of new strategies for investigation resourcing stand to save significant revenue. A change in methodology will alleviate the substantial pressure on workforces and make targets more obtainable, driving the sector forward into a brighter future.

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