Safety warning over electric meter thefts
The warning comes after new figures show that Northumbria Police received 83 reports of the "dishonest use of electricity" in the year to March.
Although this is down from 95 in 2020-21, the cost of living crisis is raising fears more people may be tempted to tamper with or bypass their meter.
Experts say electricity theft has the potential to cause serious injury and is punishable by up to five years in prison.
The National Energy Action (NEA) campaign group said it is "horrifying" that people could be turning to the illegal practice to keep their lights on amid a growing fuel crisis.
In England and Wales, 3,600 such offences were recorded in 2021-22 – up 13% on the year before and the most since comparable records began in 2012-13.
The NEA said the cost-of-living crisis is forcing people into "increasingly desperate situations" such as avoiding energy use and resorting to electricity theft.
Peter Smith, NEA director of policy and advocacy, said: "This is not only illegal but dangerous and it is happening now, before winter weather hits.
"More support is desperately needed to help the most vulnerable keep themselves warm and safe this winter.”
A Government spokesman said it is providing £37bn to help households with the cost of living.
He added: “We are committed to cracking down on the theft of electricity, which causes serious injury to people and damage to property."