At the start of this year’s university term, a utilities specialist is warning students to be vigilant when moving into private rented properties. The company’s research has found that thousands of student households may be at risk of fires, electric shocks and even street-wide gas explosions caused by an undetected energy meter that has been interfered with.
The figures come from a report, which reveals that 67% of young people aged 18-24 wouldn’t feel confident in how to spot the signs of a tampered energy meter – leaving themselves, housemates and the wider public at risk.
Meter cheating causes at least one injury or death every 10 days in the UK. The practice occurs when somebody illegally tampers with – or completely bypasses – their electricity or gas meter so it doesn’t properly record usage, meaning they can avoid paying for some or all of their supply. This leaves unsafe gas and electrical supplies, which in turn can put them at risk of a range of potentially fatal hazards.
The survey found that around 20% of 18-24 year olds have encountered a “tell-tale sign” of meter tampering in the past (but may not have realised its significance). Of those, 28% said they noticed it when moving to a rented property.
There is therefore a clear need for students to be on their guard. What’s more, with the private rental market continuing to see huge growth amongst students – which is only set to increase in the coming years – this is set to become an even bigger problem in future.
The study was commissioned by outsourced utility collections specialists Echo Managed Services and Grosvenor Services Group, and endorsed by Crimestoppers UK. It surveyed 2,000 UK residents and found worryingly low levels of awareness with regards to the practice of meter tampering.
Lloyd Birkhead, managing director of Grosvenor Services Group, said: “These figures make for uncomfortable reading. The prospect of moving into your first home with friends is exciting – but many students do so unaware of this potential danger.
“Within the student rental sector, there are countless ways energy theft can occur – from previous tenants cheating their energy supply to dishonest landlords interfering with the meter.
“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.
“Ultimately, students need to be equipped with knowledge and understanding, to help them eradicate the danger that could be lurking in their meter cupboard. We advise looking for evidence at the same time that the property inventory is taken.”
Would you know how to spot the signs of meter cheating? They include:
- A back to front meter
- A rubber tube where the meter should be should be
- A ‘bridged supply’ where a wire is used to bypass information going into the meter
- No visible dial on the meter
- No credit available, but the gas or electricity supply is still working
- Damage to meter casing
- Extra wires attached in or around the meter
- Melted meter casing or burn marks on the casing
Visit the Stay Energy Safe website for more information.