England and Wales have seen electricity thefts rise by 75% since 2012, in large part due to cannabis farms, cryptocurrency mining, and the cost-of-living crisis, a BBC analysis has found.
Over 3,500 offences were reported in 2021 to 2022 — the highest its ever been. According to a spokesperson for the National Police Chiefs’ Council (NPCC) who spoke to the outlet, electricity theft poses “a growing problem.”
“It is a concerning crime as it can put people’s safety at risk and support the activity of serious organised crime,” the spokesperson said.
Electricity theft involves tampering with or bypassing meters to avoid paying for energy. While tempting, the risks can be deadly; exposed wires and bypassing fuse boxes increase the likelihood of fires and death.
Using figures from 42 police forces across England and Wales, the BBC found that the past three years have surpassed records. However, while some forces saw sharp rises in electricity theft, such as six-times over in West Midlands Police, others like Hertfordshire Constabulary saw major downturns (69%).
Crypto, cannabis, pandemic, war spark electricity theft
Behind the rise are several factors. Charlie Pugsley, Assistant commissioner at London Fire Brigade, told BBC that electricity theft could be due to “anything from cannabis cultivation to Bitcoin mining.”
A rise in illegal Bitcoin mining has coincided with a rise in cannabis farms across the two countries. However, higher energy costs have also played a role. With many unable to afford the steep rise in electricity prices, influenced by the pandemic and the war in Ukraine, meter tampering has grown evermore tempting. Indeed, offences apparently peaked during this period.
While cannabis farming and Bitcoin mining seem innocuous enough, electrical fires can easily break out — which are far more dangerous to firefighters and those living nearby.
The penalties are therefore equally high. Dishonest use of electricity carries an unlimited fine and up to five years in prison.
In 2018, a seven-year-old boy was playing in a pub garden. He climbed a fence where an electrical meter had been bypassed, touched a lightbulb, and died. The pub owner was sentenced to nine years for electricity theft and manslaughter.