THE rising cost of living is driving people to steal electricity, new figures show.

A dozen thefts of electricity were reported in West Mercia last year, with the National Energy Action campaign saying it is "horrifying" that people could be turned to the illegal practice to keep their lights on.

Electricity theft is carried out usually by tampering with a line or bypassing a meter.

It can cause serious injury or even death, and is punishable with up to five years in prison.

Home Office figures show West Mercia Police received 14 reports of the "dishonest use of electricity" in the year to March – though this is down from 24 in 2020-21.

READ MORE: Aldi confirms new Malvern store will open in December

In West Mercia, 16 investigations were concluded in 2021-22, with six resulting in no suspect being identified, eight abandoned due to evidential difficulties and two 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.

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.

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 £440 million each year – with these costs then passed on to customers.

READ MORE: Council explains how controversial land will be used

An Ofgem spokesperson added 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.

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.

"More support is desperately needed to close this gap and help the most vulnerable keep themselves warm and safe this winter.”