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Criminal gangs tampering energy meters for as little as £10

Some householders are so desperate to lower their energy bills that they are turning to criminal gangs who "hotwire" supplies and tamper with metres.

This is according to an investigation by the BBC's Inside Out programme. It found that the gangs are charging as little as £10 for the work and can carry out in excess of 15 jobs each day.

Energy regulator Ofgem says the theft is costing suppliers around £400 million per year and adding around £30 on to the average bill.

But more shocking than that is the risk people are taking, with British Gas saying that tampering puts lives at risk by increasing the likelihood of gas explosions.

Piers Merritt, a power theft investigator, said: "We find trends where people go around estates and tamper with meters. These people will charge between £10 and £500 a time.

"They're not putting themselves at risk, if something happened there it's all the adjoining properties and everyone in there that's going to be affected by a potential explosion."

A case in point occurred in Sheffield last year. A gas explosion in the Tinsley district of the city caused one property to be completely destroyed and two neighbouring homes to be badly damaged.

When investigators looked into the cause of the incident, they found five instances of gas theft and two of electricity theft on the street.

Next month, Ofgem will publish new requirements for the ways in which energy companies tackle the theft of electricity.

It is believed that around a third of energy theft is linked to the cultivation of cannabis plants.

The episode was broadcast on Monday evening (January 20th), but is still available to view on iPlayer.

A legal and completely safe way of lowering bills is by installing good quality insulation. According to the Energy Saving Trust, cavity wall insulation can save the average household £140 a year, while loft insulation can lower bills by around £180.