THERE are fears the cost-of-living crisis could lead to more cases of electricity theft.

There were more than 30 incidents of electricity theft – which can be carried out by tampering with a line or bypassing a meter – in Essex last year.

The crime can cause serious injury and is punishable by up to five years in prison.

The National Energy Action (NEA) campaign group said it is "horrifying" that people could be turning to the illegal practice to keep their lights on amid a growing fuel crisis.

Home Office figures show Essex Police received 32 reports of the "dishonest use of electricity" in the year to March – though this is down from 42 in 2020-21.

Of the investigations concluded in 2021-22, seven resulted in no suspect being identified, 14 were abandoned due to evidence difficulties and seven ended with a charge or summons.

Across England and Wales, 3,600 such offences were recorded in 2021-22 – up 13 per cent on the year before and the most since comparable records began in 2012-13.

Stay Energy Safe, operated by Crimestoppers, says tampering with a meter can lead to wires overheating, the damage of property and potentially loss of life.

It also warns that the crime costs energy companies a minimum of £440million each year – with these costs then passed on to customers.

An Ofgem spokesman said that “under no circumstances should consumers attempt to connect electricity meters themselves”.

But the NEA said the cost-of-living crisis is forcing people into "increasingly desperate situations", such as avoiding energy use – including using candles instead of lights – or possibly even resorting to electricity theft.

When former Chancellor Rishi Sunak announced a cost-of-living support package in May, the NEA said the predicted average annual energy bill from October could hit £2,800, but this is now expected to reach £3,358.

The Government said it is providing £37billion to help households with the cost of living.

A spokesman 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."