Electricity theft will be considered a “more serious” offence under new sentencing guidelines.
They include specific advice for judges and magistrates passing sentence for illegal abstraction of electricity for the first time as it presents an “obvious danger of injury to the public”.
The new guidelines published by the Sentencing Council aims to provide a “comprehensive guidance” and introduce a standard approach to sentencing, ensuring that certain factors are always taken into account.
The options are expected to help decide the most appropriate sentence for each offender, depending on the level of harm to the victim, the financial values involved and what is best suited to both punish the offender and prevent reoffending.
Jill Gramann, Sentencing Council member and magistrate said: “Theft offences are some of the most common crimes that come before the courts and these offences vary greatly. They range from someone stealing from shops to fund an addiction to organised gangs stealing designer goods to order or people diverting electricity to power a cannabis farm.
“The new guidelines will help judges and magistrates deal with this great variety of offences while ensuring that the harm caused to the victim is central to the sentencing decision. Thefts are committed for financial gain but can mean much more than financial loss to the victim and we want to ensure sentences take this into account.”
The new guidelines, which have been issued following a public consultation and cover nearly 100,000 criminals sentenced every year for offences ranging from shoplifting to stealing by employees, will come into effect on 1st February 2016.
The UK Revenue Protection Association (UKPRA), a trade body for those involved in detecting and dealing with meter tampering and power and water theft, welcomed the news but is “disappointed” the theft of gas “does not receive the same attention”.
It stated: “The impacts of the theft of gas can be devastating; an explosion caused by tampering with the gas supply can cause damage to entire streets and poses a serious threat to life and property.”
A spokesperson from the Sentencing Council however said gas theft comes under general theft “so there does not need to be a separate offence of theft of gas as an equivalent to abstraction of electricity”.