A UK man was recently arrested on suspicion of ‘abstracting electricity’, after charging his iPhone on a London Overground train.

But did you know that abstracting electricity is actually an offence in Trinidad and Tobago?

Section 11 of the Larceny Act, Chap. 11:12 provides that:

Any person who maliciously or fraudulently abstracts, causes to be wasted or diverted, consumes or uses any electricity is liable to be punished as in the case of simple larceny.

The penalty for simple larceny under the Act is imprisonment for five years.

It stands to reason that this offence may be committed by someone who bypasses his electricity meter or reconnects a disconnected meter or who unlawfully obtains a free electricity supply.

What is more subjective however is how wastage is interpreted or quantified.

While the offence itself may seem odd or even absurd at first glance, abstracting electricity may pose a serious problem to homeowners and landlords.

It has been reported in the media that criminal gangs are working in housing estates, offering desperate bill payers the option of rewiring meters at a cost. Other bill payers are sometimes tempted to have a go themselves, to hide their excessive energy use. And some may simply refuse to pay for an electricity supply, preferring instead to ‘borrow’ it from someone else.

Whatever the reason for abstracting electricity, it is clear that it is extremely dangerous to do so. There is a risk of electrocution and a serious risk of sparking, fire or even explosion. This therefore presents a huge safety risk to the household itself, to visitors and neighbouring properties.

What can you do if you suspect that your electricity supply is being tampered with?

If you have evidence to suggest abstraction is happening, you first need to obtain access to the building or site to which you suspect your electricity supply is being rerouted.

There is a good chance that access will not be voluntarily given and either an injunction or the assistance of the police in obtaining a warrant may be necessary.

What if my tenant is abstracting electricity from me or someone else?

This is a very serious breach of tenancy, aside from being a criminal offence, and if you have evidence to suggest abstraction is happening, you may have grounds to seek eviction.

If you need to pursue an eviction order via the court, the witness evidence provided by an experienced electrician or officer of the Trinidad and Tobago Electricity Commission, would be helpful in illustrating the dangers presented by abstraction.

What about charging my phone in a public place?

One should not assume that the existence of an electrical outlet gives you the licence to use it for your own purposes. If you need to plug-in your laptop or phone charger at any place other than your home or workplace, it would be prudent to obtain permission from someone in authority. This would certainly avoid the embarrassing predicament of being charged with the offence of abstracting electricity.

About The Author Jason Nathu

Jason Nathu is an Attorney-at-Law and Tutor attached to the Legal Aid Clinic at the Hugh Wooding Law School.