Britain's energy suppliers have begun sharing intelligence on households with suspiciously low bills in a new hunt for thieves who tap into electricity and gas networks.It is estimated that energy worth £440m is stolen from the network every year by criminals tampering with energy meters and supplies to artificially reduce their recorded usage, offences that add £20 to the average household bill.By combining their data, 58 energy suppliers and distributors including all the “big six” providers, plan to detect when a house or business is using significantly less power than normal.The scheme, the Theft Risk Assessment Service, is the first of its kind in the world and is being powered by Experian, the data company, and ElectraLink, which provides energy market information.More than 150,000 cases of energy theft are investigated every year, but as well as the financial cost, is also linked to criminal activity such as cannabis farming.Rigging meters and diverting electricity supplies from other properties also risks electric shocks and fires. When energy is diverted by tampering with power lines it can also lead to local outages.

At present, major energy companies have attempted to combat thieves by relying on their own records, but the information is often not comprehensive enough and smaller providers do not have enough data to analyse. By pooling their data, they will have a better idea of unusual activity.Experian’s software will combine the data of all the major suppliers and dozens of smaller ones to identify when usage is significantly lower than average than peers, with households profiled by their number of occupants, postcode and financial status to determine an average level of consumption. Commercial properties will be profiled by their type of business.Ian Terblanche, Experian’s director of telecoms and utilities, said the threshold at which premises would be identified as abnormal varied, but that it was “a long way out from the baseline”, meaning thrifty consumers and regular holidaymakers would not be marked. He said that with only 150,000 reported cases out of 42m supplied properties, a premise would have to be significantly below the average to be identified as suspicious.

Experian analyses many months’ worth of data before highlighting a potential thief, so it must identify a steady pattern of unusual consumption.Mr Terblanche said the data was anonymised and that only a score related to how a household or business differed from the baseline on energy use would be shared with companies.Experian has been trialling the scheme since March and there has already been an increase in the number of cases being flagged, with the first leads being discovered in May.When a case is escalated to an energy provider, they check it against their own records and follow it up by contacting the customer or the police. While the cost of energy theft has been estimated at £440m, it is believed the true figure is much bigger since many incidents are not reported or discovered.More than 1,500 people in England and Wales were prosecuted for electricity and gas theft in 2014-15, according to the Crown Prosecution Service.[The Telegraph]