Electricity theft was seen at record levels in England and Wales in the last year as the cost-of-living crisis continues.

Home Office figures show police forces across England and Wales received 3,600 reports of “dishonest use of electricity” in the year to March – up 13% on 2020-21, and the most since comparable records began in 2012-13.

Around 1,100 of these occurred between January and March – almost double the number recorded over the same period in 2018-19 and 2019-20.

Electricity theft – which can be carried out by tampering with a line or bypassing a meter – has the potential to cause serious injury and is punishable by up to five years in prison.

Wharfedale Observer: Electricity theft is punishable by up to five years in prison (PA)Electricity theft is punishable by up to five years in prison (PA)

Though already an increasing problem, the National Energy Action (NEA) campaign group said it is “horrifying” that more people could be turning to the illegal practice to keep their lights on amid a growing energy crisis.

An Ofgem spokesperson said “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” where they are looking to avoid energy use – including using candles instead of lights – or possibly resorting to electricity theft.

Peter Smith, NEA director of policy and advocacy, said: “This is not only illegal but dangerous too, and it’s horrifying if the crisis is forcing households to try this to keep the lights on.

“And this is happening now, before winter and the cold weather hits.”

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

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