More than one in seven households in the UK could be at risk from fires, electric shocks and gas explosions due to meter tampering, a new survey has indicated.

The poll commissioned by Echo Managed Services and the Grosvenor Services Group found 14 per cent of respondents had encountered signs of tampering themselves. Extrapolated to the whole of the country, this equates to around three million households.

Although one in four said they would turn a blind eye to energy theft, a majority (54 per cent) of the 2,000 people surveyed said they would report any instances they spotted without question.

However, just 150,000 cases of suspected meter tampering are investigated annually, according to Crimestoppers UK. The charity, which has endorsed the research as part of its Stay Energy Safe campaign, says only 1,500 people receive criminal charges each year.

The survey suggested the low level of reporting is partly due to a lack of awareness.

Three quarters of respondents were unsure of how to spot the signs of tampering, which include extra wiring, pipes replaced with rubber tubing, and meters being placed back to front.

Despite meter tampering leading to a death or injury once every ten days in the UK, almost four in ten (39 per cent) said they were unaware of the public safety risks. Of those who would report energy theft, almost half (46 per cent) cited safety concerns as their main motivation.

Only 13 per cent would do so by contacting the Stay Energy Safe hotline as recommended. Most said they would go to their energy supplier (58 per cent) or the police (50 per cent).

Nearly half (44 per cent) of those who said they would not report energy theft gave “personal repercussions” as the reason. However, almost one in five (19 per cent) said they did not know who they should report it to.

Grosvenor Services Group managing director Lloyd Birkhead, said: “These figures make for uncomfortable reading.

“Despite [the equivalent of] more than seven million UK adults saying that they have spotted the signs of a potentially fatal energy meter tamper, in reality the volume of actual reported incidents is far below this level.

“A significant amount of ‘spotted’ instances may therefore be going unreported, causing a huge threat to households across the country.

“Consumers ultimately need to be equipped with knowledge and understanding to help them eradicate the danger that could be lurking in their meter cupboard,” he added.

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