In Europe, energy companies are taking a firm line against meter tampering and customer resistance to prepayment installation.
In the southern European country of Cyprus, three people are in police custody after being arrested on suspicion of tampering with their home electricity meter.
The arrests are a small sample of the tampering problem after local media reported auditor general Chrystalla Giorgatzi’s estimation that a third of all electricity meters in Cyprus have been altered.
Ms Giorgatzi said a growing number of households in Cyprus are involved in meter tampering as people struggle to pay rising fuel bills, according to the Famagusta Gazette.
Resistance to prepaid meters
Meanwhile in the UK, two leading energy firms have issued staff with stab vests to protect them from attack by customers who are tampering with gas and electricity meters or refusing to pay their bills.
The move to protect staff comes as the industry reports about 25,000 cases of electricity theft each year, with a third of all stolen electricity estimated to be used to power illegal cannabis farming operations.
More than 97,000 gas and electricity meters were forcibly installed in homes in 2014, up from about 64,000 in 2009.
The figures peaked at more than 111,000 in 2013 after a series of energy-price rises.
British Gas, which last year blamed the trend on the “difficult economic climate”, said because of the nature of the work its energy theft teams do, the supplier has made protective clothing available to them.
A spokesman for EDF Energy said: “Our staff are issued with stab vests when carrying out debt-related customer visits or visits where the meter has been tampered with.”
About 180 staff at the company have been issued with the vests, which were introduced “following a risk assessment”, she added.
Energy regulator Ofgem has called on suppliers to do more to tackle the issue, which is estimated to cost as much as GBP500 million a year – or GBP20 for every bill-paying household that is forced to pick up the tab.