Tool theft reaches crisis point

When will enough be enough?

Van and tool theft is a blight on the trade industry. It’s an all-too-common crime, despite workers crying out that more needs to be done. There’s been news article after article, statistic after statistic. Yet the problem is getting worse.

A new Bill aimed at reducing equipment theft was given Royal Assent in July last year, making it a live piece of law. This is aimed at making it harder for thieves to sell stolen tools and equipment through the widespread use of technology. However it’s still too early to see this have long term effects on the issue. So in the meantime, what’s being done to support tradespeople?

What’s the real cost of tool theft?

If you haven’t experienced tool theft yet, imagine heading out to your van, ready for another busy day of work to find it destroyed. The doors peeled backwards, the side panels cut open or the locked drilled into. Your expensive, possibly specialist, tools that are crucial to your livelihood, are gone.

For many of you reading this, you won’t have to imagine. A staggering 78% of tradespeople have had their tools stolen, a new whitepaper from On the Tools reveals.

Your stolen tools will likely be sold on second-hand auction sites or at car boot sales, with serial numbers and identification marks still on them. Meanwhile, you’re stuck with having to replace these tools, delay or cancel jobs because you’ve got no equipment, and find a new vehicle. To make matters worse, you’ll have to claim on your insurance, potentially lose your No Claims Bonus, and/or face higher premiums.

Replacing them doesn’t come cheaply. The report went on to show that the average UK tradesperson is likely to have between £1,000 and £5,000 worth of tools stolen from them in just one tool theft incident. It also uncovered that self-employed tradespeople are 38% more likely than employed tradespeople to have their tools stolen.

But the impact isn’t just financial, it’s emotional too. Mental health is already a struggle in this industry, where many don’t feel comfortable or confident in expressing their feelings for fear of appearing weak. Struggling with the cost pressure of replacing tools, cancelling jobs and feeling like you’re letting clients down is a hard burden to bear.

There are also the well documented long-term impacts, of lacking trust in others or society, the distress of blaming yourself, or desire for retribution. These can manifest as physical symptoms too, like headaches or difficulty sleeping.

What’s being done to stop tool theft?

The first port of call if your tools are stolen is to call the police. But almost a quarter (22.67%) of tradespeople didn’t report their experience of tool theft to the authorities. And for those that did report the crime, only 6% were satisfied or very satisfied with how their case was handled. And it’s easy to understand why. One survey responder stated:

“When my tools were stolen, there was no CCTV around. I did go knocking door-to-door to see if they had cameras outside their houses, but I was unfortunately left in the lurch. I spoke to the police and asked if they wanted to come by to do any fingerprinting. They said, ‘sorry, but it’s an open and shut case.’ Nobody saw or heard anything.”

Tragically, only 1% of tradespeople fully recovered their stolen tools and only 4% of tradespeople partially recovered their stolen stools. It’s a crushing reality.

While replacing your tools and repairing your van are critical to your job, it’s important to focus on your own health at this time, because you are critical to your work as well. The impact of this type of theft on the trade can be life-threatening, so we do recommend considering support systems you can reach out to, including counselling, to help with emotional welfare. You can explore some of the groups here in our blog focused on mental health.

Builders Talk Group

We caught up with Builders Talk Group, to gain even more insights into this issue.

“Tradespeople need to be as proactive as possible in protecting their tools and their vans,” said Liz Gribbin, Director of BTG.

“We’ve seen the Equipment Theft (Prevention) Bill passed into law last July, which introduced regulations requiring immobilisers and forensic marking on agricultural equipment, ATV’s and power tools used in the construction industry, by manufacturers and/or retailers at point of sale. This doesn’t cover tools already out there, so people need to be aware of protecting their existing tools.

“Changes to Thatcham regarding the new vehicle assessments means better security requirements for the payload area of commercial vehicles, these came into being at the end of last year, but won’t start rolling off the production line for another couple of years.

“It’s slow progress, but it is progress, we have to keep pushing for change as a collective. We have to keep reporting these crimes to make sure the data is as accurate as possible. And we need to keep sharing information across our network of members to try and keep as informed as possible.

Don’t wait until it happens to you – we’ve seen too many accounts of how difficult it is to recover from losing your livelihood. At best it’s a few days not earning while you try to get new tools together (assuming you’re in a financial position to be able to do so). At worst, sadly we’ve seen people leave the industry, family breakdowns, suicide, because people don’t know how to keep going. This type of crime has a very real human cost as well as a financial one.

“Being a tradesperson is hard enough. Replacing your tools is something we can all do without. Protect your van – Protect your tools – Protect your livelihood.

BTG is working with the National Business Crime Centre and has helped produce information on how to be proactive about tool safety.

Tool safety tips

Tool thieves aren’t just striking in the dead of night, when no-one’s around to stop them. This problem is so prevalent, that these thefts are happening in broad daylight, in car parks, on streets or off driveways. What can you do to reduce this risk?

  1. Avoid storing tools in your van – remove them when you’re on a job or overnight.
  2. Invest in a quality lockable tool chest or box.
  3. Store your tools in a securely locked garage.
  4. Install CCTV around your garage, as well as motion-sensor lighting and an alarm.
  5. Mark your tools – either with a DNA marking kit or by scratching your name/postcode into the body of the tools.
  6. Use a GPS tracking device to keep track of your tools – or even Air Tags, which have much better range than other Bluetooth tracking devices.
  7. Be aware of your surroundings and suspicious activity when working in public – always lock your van whenever you leave it, even if it’s just for a minute.
  8. If possible, park your van where access to the doors is limited to deter thieves.
  9. Never leave your tools unattended in a public place.
  10. Register your tools on an online database – police can trace owners of lost/stolen property via, which is free to use, and you can also report if your tools go missing.

You should also note that taking matters into your own hands could lead to punishment for yourself. Vigilante methods such as the ‘Sting Ray’, a van defence device that delivers an electric shock to would-be thieves, could expose you to prosecution.

Are you properly insured?

Many tradespeople don’t take out a tool insurance policy until after they’ve been affected by the crime, stung by their experience. Worryingly, 83% of tradespeople reported they didn’t have insurance at the time of the tool theft.

It can be difficult to know which policy will completely cover tools in the event of theft. Home insurance, life insurance, vehicle insurance and travel insurance can exclude tools, and van insurance may not cover the tools transported inside. Some may also believe that business equipment cover will insure their tools, when it is unlikely to do so.

Check the wording on your van insurance policy to understand what is and isn’t covered, and you may need to consider a separate tool policy. Speak to a broker about insurers on the market, to make sure yours is proactive when it comes to replacing tools.

Whether you’re still thinking about taking out tool insurance, or you’ve bought new tools that need including in existing cover, or even to upgrade your van, get in touch. Find out more about how we can help by calling your local business branch.

We are always here to help advise you on all aspects of van insurance and tool insurance, with 60 years’ experience under our belt to point you in the right direction.

Sources: On The Tools, Builders Talk Group

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