Surge in electricity theft for drug cultivation

  • Projected 13 per cent increase in electricity thefts in 2019
  • In 23 per cent of investigations into the theft of electricity, the police suspected it was stolen for the cultivation or manufacture of illegal drugs
  • In the financial year 2017/18, police seized an average of 964 cannabis plants every single day
  • Increase in landlord insurance claims where properties have been damaged by people using them to grow cannabis

New analysis1 by Direct Line for Business reveals a surge in the number of police investigations into the theft of electricity, where people have tampered with a gas or electricity meter, so it doesn’t properly record the energy used in England & Wales and its use in cannabis farming.  Analysis of 2019 data reveals that police investigations into the theft of electricity are projected to be 13 per cent higher this year than in 2018. There are expected to be 2,200 cases in 2019 compared to 1,950 in 2018, a rise of 250 cases.  Those tampering with energy meters risk electrocution, severe burns and increase the risk of fire in a property as exposed wires and connections can easily become superheated. 

In almost a quarter (23 per cent) of cases, police suspected electricity was being stolen for the cultivation or manufacture of illegal drugs.  Since the start of 2017 there have been over 5,200 cases investigating the theft of electricity, an average of seven cases opened every day.  People can receive a significant prison term for electricity theft alone, with a starting point of 12 weeks’ custody for serious offenders2.  For those found guilty of running a cannabis operation, capable of producing industrial quantities for commercial use, a criminal can expect to be jailed for between 4 and 8 years3. 

Just three police forces across England and Wales account for nearly a third (32 per cent) of all investigations into the theft of electricity.  Greater Manchester Police handled 14 per cent of all investigations into the theft of electricity since 2017, followed by West Yorkshire Police (12 per cent) and Merseyside Police (seven per cent).  Greater Manchester Police also had the highest number of investigations where it was suspected the power stolen was being used for the manufacture of illegal drugs, with 710 cases recorded between 2017 and the end of June 2019.  This was followed by West Yorkshire Police with 602 investigations and Merseyside with 376.  

Table one: Police forces with highest number of investigations into energy abstraction for illegal drug cultivation

Police force

Investigations into the illegal abstraction of electricity for drug cultivation


Greater Manchester Police 710
West Yorkshire Police 602
Merseyside Police 376
Lancashire Constabulary 358
Metropolitan Police Service 333

Source:  Direct Line for Business, 2019

The scale of illegal drug cultivation in the UK is reinforced by analysis4 that shows in the financial year 2017/18 police seized an average of 964 cannabis plants every single day, with a total of 352,000 plants confiscated. Cannabis seizures represented nearly two thirds (72 per cent) of all drug seizures in England and Wales last year, with a total of 98,000 seizures across all police forces.  The Metropolitan Police alone carried out 25,880 seizures related to cannabis, accounting for 26 per cent of the England and Wales total. West Yorkshire Police (3,649), West Midlands Police (3,605) and Sussex Police (3,599) also made significant seizures. 

Sarah Larkin, Landlord Product Manager at Direct Line for Business, said: “Illegal cannabis farms pose a huge threat to the health and security of neighbourhoods across the country and are a major concern for landlords.  Landlords can unwittingly become victim of unscrupulous drug dealers who abuse their properties and transform them into cannabis factories.  Not only can these landlords find themselves involved in a police investigation, but they often have to contend with thousands of pounds worth of damage caused to their properties.” 

Analysis of insurance claims data reveals there has been an increase in the number of malicious damage claims resulting from the cultivation of cannabis this year. Insurance claims45 from landlords whose properties have been converted into illegal cannabis farms account for a third of the total value of all malicious damage claims received.  One in every nine landlord claims related to malicious damage because a tenant had been using a landlord’s property for the illegal cultivation of cannabis.  

The cultivation of cannabis can result in huge damage to a property, resulting from mould and water leakage from hydroponics and irrigation systems used.  Claims also show criminals tampering with electricity supplies in a property, knocking through walls for ventilation and causing damage by installing fortifications to stop easy access. 

Signs a property may be being used as a cannabis farm:

  • The tenant wishes to pay cash upfront for the lease and is keen to discourage any inspections of the property
  • Windows and vents sealed or blocked off to prevent heat or the smell of cannabis escaping
  • Tampering with the electricity meter or wiring
  • Mould, condensation and excess humidity in a property
  • Fertiliser and an excess of gardening equipment for the size of the property’s garden
  • Fortification of the building, such as an increased number of locks or window bars installed
  • Noise and light pollution from ventilation fans and lamps



Notes to Editors

1 Freedom of Information Act (2000) request made by Direct Line for Business to the 43 police forces in England and Wales in July 2019. Of this number, 67 per cent) provided usable data. Data provided up to the end of August 2019, with projected figures based on extrapolated full-year estimates for 2019 compared to full-year 2018 figures.

2 Starting point for sentencing for those with high culpability -


4 Direct Line for Business analysis of ONS data relating to seizures of drugs in England and Wales for the financial years ending 2016 and 2017, published 8th November 2018.

5 Analysis of Direct Line for Business claims data for the period covering January 2015 to August 2019.


For further information please contact

Direct Line for Business

Unni Henry

Tel: 01903 636 149

Email: [email protected]


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