Tuesday, 28 January 2014

In the ghetto part II.

Following on from my last entry, "In the ghetto", and in the interest of balance I thought I'd write about another chap I came across.

Many years ago I worked as a meter reader, or "data collector" as they are now known, and travelled around the North West collecting data. The data was gleaned from reading people's electricity and gas meters.

Part of the data that is collected is whether or not a household is stealing their fuel. It's not as widespread as people believe, but it does happen. Since the power companies know that there would be a danger of physical violence perpetrated upon their data collectors if they were thought by the residents of such Hellish communities to be "grasses" they pay you danger money for each household that you report and that is subsequently found to be guilty. The payment comes in the form of a £25.00 shopping voucher, which means you don't have to pay tax on it. Very generous and public spirited.

The vast majority of areas I covered were inner city estates, many of them similar to the Chatsworth estate made famous in the Channel 4 television drama "Shameless". Estates like that, with so many people on benefits, so much criminality, were bound to be full of sub-human leachers stealing their electricity and costing the rest of us law abiding British subjects extra through our own bills.


I did that job a total of four years, and in those four years take a wild guess at how many of those people I found to be stealing their fuel. Answer, not a single one. That doesn't mean that none of them are doing it, it just means none of the customers of any of the three, major, power companies I read for were doing it. Not a one.

Occasionally I would do a round in a pleasant, or even wealthy, area. It's far harder to hit your targets in areas such as these since people are generally out at work. In those cases you leave a card and rely on the home owner to fill in their own reading and leave it in the window for you to read. Some houses just refuse to let you in, for whatever reason. Maybe they don't trust you, maybe they don't realise it's a legal requirement to have your meters read, maybe they're just too busy. It's never a cause for suspicion, unless you're never allowed access. In those cases, eventually, the power company has to apply for a warrant to gain access. The warrant is always granted since to refuse the warrant would mean forcing the power company to fail to follow the legislation. But I digress.

There was a nice street in Lancashire. Not a posh street, just a nice street. A Cul-de-sac with a big, round turning circle at the bottom, wide, tree lined, pavements and a mixture of semi-detached houses and detached bungalows, about thirty of them. It's what estate agents call a "well established" area and the residents are almost exclusively elderly. Their houses are nice, but in need of minor repair. Doors stick, window sills need painting, the drives could do with a jet wash and the lawns need a little bit of a trim, but all in all very pleasant.

At the bottom of the street is a larger, detached house. It has a large extension, a huge conservatory, two block paving drives and a magnificent porch. The drives contained mum's BMW, daughter's Vauxhall Corsa, and dad's van. Dad's van bore dad's name followed by the words "Joiners and Building Contractors". It was a long wheel base Mercedes and was immaculate. I visited this house every three months for three years and never gained access.

Then came my thirteenth visit. I knocked on the door and it was immediately opened by large chap in a sheepskin coat and with a lovely, warm smile. I asked to read the meter and he allowed me in, saying "I think it's in that cupboard under the stairs." He was quite plainly a visitor to the house and not an inhabitant.

Torch in hand I knelt, opened the cupboard door and crawled inside. I heard the gentleman that had allowed me access open a door off the hallway and call through to the kitchen.

"It's only the meter reader, I've let him in."

There was a shriek, a shriek of panic, almost terror. "Noooo." I heard someone come rushing through.

Now at this point I had read the meter and was backing away, but the reaction of the lady in the kitchen gave me pause for thought. I looked at the meter again and sure enough, underneath the black, bakelite box a tiny hole had been drilled and into this had been inserted a.... hang on, I'd better stop there before I get my arse kicked from the power companies. Basically, the meter had been fiddled, and fiddled in such a way that it could not be un-fiddled. I believe the term that fits this situation is "bang to rights".

I pressed the button on my handheld device to report and photograph the meter then backed out of the cupboard on all fours. The lady of the house was stood over me, an attractive and well dressed lady in her mid-to-late forties. She knew she was caught, that there was no way out, so what did she do?

Did she hang her head in shame?


Did she panic, become flustered, mumble or stutter an apology?


Did she offer me a bribe to prevent me reporting her criminality to the authorities?


She glared. She sneered at me. Her face was a mask of anger.

"Finished?" she spat.

I nodded. I stood and made my way out. As I reached the front door she pushed me hard from behind and I stumbled out. When I turned to look at her the vicious glare was still in place. She hissed "You fucking dare grass me up you little bastard, my husband will fucking KILL you."

Even if I hadn't already "grassed" her up this threat wouldn't have prevented me. I looked around at the other houses on the street, the peeling paint and the washed out milk bottles on the steps, the elderly ladies tending their pansies and the small cars, paid for by the pensions of the residents who had worked hard to ensure a reasonably comfortable retirement. They had very little, this lady had everything. They paid for their electricity and, between them, they paid for her electricity too.

The household was prosecuted. They were found to have been fiddling their meter for almost a decade. They were heavily fined and joiner and building contractor dad had to put his contracts on hold for four months whilst he served his sentence.

But they're not on benefits.

What a lovely couple.