DOZENS of reports have been received by police in Barnsley relating to the alleged theft of electricity.

Electricity theft - which can be carried out by tampering with a line or bypassing a meter - is punishable by up to five years in prison.

Though already an increasing problem, the National Energy Action campaign group said it is horrifying” ‘that others could be turning to the illegal practice to keep their lights on amid a growing fuel crisis.

Home Office figures show Barnsley officers received 52 reports of the ‘dishonest use of electricity’ in the year to March - though this is down from 73 in 2020/21.

Twenty-one cases resulted in no suspect being identified, 26 were abandoned due to evidential difficulties and five were issued 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.

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 £440m each year - with these costs then passed on to customers.

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.

“The average annual UK gas and electricity bill rose from £1,400 in October 2021 to £2,000, after the government removed a price cap, which limited how much suppliers could charge customers.

“Another hefty rise is expected in October.

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