Lloyd Birkhead, group managing director at utility debt collection and field service specialists, Grosvenor Services Group, part of Echo Managed Services explains why landlords and estate agents should regard energy theft as a serious issue and take action when it occurs
Every 10 days, one person is killed or injured as a result of energy theft, or meter tampering, deliberately carried out by thieves aiming to save on utility bills.
While many rental property professionals are aware of this dangerous practice and may already carry out regular checks on their properties’ energy meters, the reality is that they cannot be everywhere at once.
How does energy theft typically occur in the rented sector?
Within the rented sector, there are countless ways energy theft can occur – from occupying tenants cheating their energy supply to dishonest landlords interfering with the meter in their own rentals.
Sadly though, innocent individuals are often most at risk – perhaps those that inherit a tampered meter or neighbouring residents. This is a particular concern for those in high-rise tower blocks, where many more lives could be at risk due to issues in just one flat. For this reason, tenant co-operation is crucial to ensure homes remain safe.
Reluctance to report energy tampering
However, our recent research found that one in four UK residents would not report an instance of energy meter tampering. This reluctance is a particular issue amongst 18-24 year-olds, of whom 33% prefer not to act on their knowledge. The most common excuses for this being that it “wasn’t their business”, that they would not want to betray a friend or family member involved, or that they thought the person in question was doing it for a valid reason. This is a worrying prospect given that this age group is most likely to rent.
Clearly, these figures highlight that more must be done to highlight to tenants, as well as those landlords still uninformed on this subject, the threats of energy theft and why it is so important to report a suspected incident.
With this in mind, let’s explore what landlords need to do to help combat energy theft.
Statistics show that on average 150,000 cases of energy theft are investigated every year. Education and collaboration are key to reducing instances of the crime. This means that landlords need to focus on educating tenants about the crime and ensuring both themselves and residents fully understand the importance of working together to tackle this issue.
To ensure this is achieved, landlords should look to implement the following tactics:
- Improve checks and processes – perform meter checks during regular property visits and carry out move in/move out meter inspections. This will help aid early detection and ensure that potentially dangerous situations are avoided. Letting agents should also carry out similar checks when taking on new landlord’s properties.
- Educate tenants – make occupiers aware of the life-threatening consequences of meter cheating. This could help prevent some would-be cheaters offending, as well as encouraging tenants to report their guilty neighbours.
- Highlight reporting hotlines – anyone can anonymously report a tampered energy meter to StayEnergySafe by calling the dedicated 24/7 hotline run by Crimestoppers UK on 0800 023 2777, or by filling out the online form. This information should be communicated to property professionals, as well as tenants, to help maximise reports.
- Co-operate with the energy sector – landlords should work with the sector to report any suspected tampers – including in those properties owned / managed by their peers.
- Sign up to the UK Revenue Protection Association (UKRPA) – for social housing providers, it’s advisable to sign up to the Interoperability Protocol, which aims to improve safety standards and the identification of energy theft by seeking to raise awareness through education and providing a means of escalation between energy organisations and housing associations. The Interoperability Protocol can be signed up to by housing associations at no cost, except for a commitment to train staff to identify issue, and encourage and educate tenants to report suspected incidents of energy theft. Details can be found here: https://ukrpa.co.uk/housing-associations/
Doing nothing is not an option
The harsh reality is that if landlords fail to act against this crime, it is their tenants’ lives – and those of the entire community – that will be at risk as a result. With around 5 million rented homes across the UK, implementing the measures mentioned above has the potential to save many lives and prevent an avoidable tragedy.
When it comes to energy theft, turning a blind eye is simply not an option.