Concerns at the way people are dealt with if they are thought to have been stealing gas or electricity have been brought to the notice of a Parliamentary Group by the Director of the Centre for Utility Consumer Law at the University of Leicester.
The fears are that people who cannot afford fuel in some cases resort to tampering with meters as the only way of keeping warm.
Professor Cosmo Graham was invited to address the Associate Parliamentary Warm Homes Group and drew attention to the inadequacies of consumer protection in relation to fuel theft.
In doing so, Professor Graham referred to the Centre's research which highlights the link between poverty and the offence of stealing fuel, the inconsistency in the way the matter is dealt with by gas and electricity companies, and procedures that allow the companies to cut off supplies without the right of the customer to argue a case before an independent body.
The recently-installed Centre is funded by the Nuffield Foundation and researches the difficulties people with low incomes can experience in obtaining supplies of basic essentials - fuel, water supplies and telephone services.
The Government has just drawn up the first stage of the Utility Regulation Bill and Professor Graham regards the passage of the Bill as a favourable opportunity to improve matters in what he sees as a neglected area of consumer law.
"New Labour has committed itself to fairness in utility regulation; the way it deals with fuel theft will be an important test for the Government," he said.
"The Utilities Bill which has just been published provides the Government with precisely this opportunity."
Note to Newsdesk:
For further information please contact Professor Cosmo Graham on 0116 252 2335.
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