Certified electricians have a warning for Jamaicans: “Your neighbour may be stealing your electricity and fattening your Jamaica Public Service [JPS] bills.”
Christopher Dell, an inspector in Westmoreland, told the Jamaica Observer that people should not overlook the possibility.
“It is very much possible. On a meter socket, you have two potheads: one is for JPS and one is going to your house. Each pothead is coming down with an amount of wires. You would have three wires, two hot wires and the neutral wire. The one that is going to your house, if they go up and put a piece of wire and take power from that one, they will be stealing light from you because that power will be registering through the meter,” Dell explained.
He continued: “If somebody put up a wire on that one, they are stealing light from you, and your light bill will be climbing. It will be going up. So, therefore, if they want to, the two metre sockets that is up there, they determine which one is coming from JPS and that is the one that they would steal from.”
Lenville Pottinger, an electrician in Kingston told the Sunday Observer that he has received many requests from registered and paying JPS customers who have suspected that neighbours have infiltrated their power line. Upon investigation, their suspicions were proven valid.
“I have been requested under those circumstances several times, and I have actually found that neighbours were tapping onto their neighbours' electricity. I have found it in tenement yards and even in residential areas like Norbrook and Cherry Garden. I have found it on various roads off Maxfield Avenue, Waltham Park Road, etcetera. It is a widespread thing,” he revealed.
Last week, the JPS told the Sunday Observer that electricity theft was extensive and is found across all socio-economic groups and geographical areas.
The company said it carried out over 80,000 account audits among metered customers in 2021 and discovered over 5,500 irregularities among those customers, who were stealing electricity through line taps, meter bypasses, and meter tampering.
Pottinger added that tenants of rented premises were also “bridging” light from neighbours to reduce what they pay out monthly after paying rent.
“If the landlord has rented the place legally and the tenant tampers with the electricity, it is not very easy to detect. But if they [landlord] have a suspicion, it's the same procedure. It is illegal so the proper thing to do is call the licensed electrician,” he said.
Some 70 people were arrested by the police for electricity theft in 2021, and Winsome Callum, JPS's head of corporate communications told the Sunday Observer that apart from anti-theft activities, the company also engages in several social initiatives to assist and encourage people stealing electricity to regularise their supply.
“This includes a number of incentives offered in 2021 – scholarships for children, health coverage for children, and the elderly tablets for students of persons who come onto the grid legally, etcetera. A significant deterrent to regularisation among inner-city residents is the cost of house wiring. The MPs [Members of Parliament] have assisted in some communities. However, the recent increases in the cost of private electricians and inspectors are making the cost of house wiring prohibitive to many and is therefore likely to perpetuate the stealing of electricity,” Callum said.
Meanwhile, Devon Powell, a St Catherine-based electrician, advised JPS customers to pay attention to their month-to-month energy consumption and have an expectation as to what it will be.
“If you just see a sudden change and the consumption increases, and it's a significant increase, use that as a red flag,” he told the Sunday Observer.
When that reg flag goes up, he said, the next step should be to examine the premises.
“Check if you see anything unusual… any wire sticking out or anything like that. You want to find out what is the cause. Check if you see any connections that you are not aware of on your premises. If you don't see any visible connections, check your appliances.
“You have to do the process of elimination to make sure the increase in usage is not coming from inside. You can plug out all appliances, switch off all the lights, and check from there on if you still see that power is being used. That's if you're really suspicious that someone is tapping into your energy source. If you still see an excessive consumption and you strongly believe that someone is stealing from you, then you need to get a professional to come in.”
Powell said people can also gain access to outdoor, low-lying sockets, but said that would be too conspicuous.
“They could hook up wires in the sockets and lead off power from your premises, but because those sockets are in areas that are so visible, people would detect that wires are hooked up. That would be easily discovered,” he said.
Everton Duncan, who operates in St Andrew, said if there is no indication that an increase in power usage is coming from in the household, then it's time to consult professionals.
“You cannot confront the person. Call and advise JPS and they can bring in their legal team and the police support and deal with it, because you know how that is and the way how people are now… it would be you and them rather than the utility company. I wouldn't want to have any customer in a confrontation with another,” said Duncan.
“They can also get a certified electrician or inspector, and if they suspect or see something unusual, they would contact JPS. I have been requested for similar services before.”