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Chris Jones looks at the impact of theft on the industry

As darkness descends during the short days of winter and the Christmas lights mark the season of giving, it seems there are some who have a rather different take on what this time of year represents.

Statistics suggest that thieves and opportunists are only too glad to take advantage of the lengthening nights and help themselves to tools unattended and equipment unsecured.

Recent analysis of police force data by Direct Line business insurance has revealed that November is the peak month for tool theft and that tools stolen from trade vehicles increased by 44% during November 2022 compared to April of the same year (the month immediately after the change to British Summer Time).

The same data also highlighted a general increase in tool theft over the darker months, 20% higher over the autumn and winter of 2021/22, compared to the spring and summer of 2022.

57% of those that had their tools stolen suffered a loss of earnings as a result

Chris Jones PHAM News Chris Jones Editor of PHAM News

The true cost of theft

The insurance company’s own research has concluded that the average value of the tools taken was £3,435, but when loss of revenue from days of lost work is considered, the true cost is likely to be significantly higher than that.

According to a recent survey by Markel Direct, a company that offers specialist insurance for tradespeople, 57% of those that had their tools stolen suffered a loss of earnings as a result, with 41% of those reporting a loss of over £2500.

There is also the potential cost of repairs to vehicles or property to be considered and, of course, any claims on insurance are only likely to ultimately lead to an increase in the price of policies.

A recent study by On The Tools, an online community for those who work in the construction sector, has revealed that at least 78% of tradespeople have had their tools stolen at least once over the course of their career, while 57% have experienced such a crime twice or more.

The justice system

Unfortunately, for those in the trade who have been the victim of tool theft, their experience of the criminal justice system has been less than satisfactory.

According to the same survey produced by On The Tools, only 1% of tradespeople reported that they were able to fully recover the equipment stolen, while 65% reflected that they were very unsatisfied with the response from the police.

As only 6% of respondents expressed satisfaction with the way the police handled their case, perhaps it’s not too surprising that over 22% said that they didn’t bother to report the case at all – a fact that suggests that the official data available from the country’s police forces significantly underestimates the number of incidents.

Stolen goods

On the assumption that the perpetrators of these crimes haven’t just grabbed a bunch of tools because they’ve got an urgent job on at home, the question then arises about their motivation and the market for stolen goods.

Car boot sales have traditionally been the easiest and quickest way to turn some ill-gotten gains into hard cash, but with the rising number of e-commerce facilities and only limited checks about the origin of the products on sale, it seems that it’s none too difficult to shift some gear online without having to worry about tools being traced to their original owner.

Many professional installers, especially those who know what it’s like to have their van broken into, are likely to baulk at the idea of investing in potentially stolen tools, but it seems that there are plenty of DIYers who are either prepared to turn a blind eye or who have gone through with the transaction in all innocence.

And with ongoing concerns about the rising cost of living, it’s likely that there are likely to be many more homeowners who might be enticed by an apparent bargain-priced power tool.

What can be done?

So what can be done to reduce the level of tool thefts?

The study by On The Tools suggests that 73% of tradespeople favour more severe penalties for those convicted, but given the low level of prosecutions, plus the fact that not all crimes are even reported, this seems unlikely to have much of an impact.

In the meantime, it seems that prevention, or at least minimising temptation, remains the best way to ensure that your tools are not going to be in someone else’s hands come next spring.

Recent years have seen the marketing of more sophisticated deterrents and security devices, including van vaults, deadlocks and tracking devices, but one of the simplest and cheapest ways to deter thieves could simple be to ensure that loaded vans are parked in well-lit areas, avoiding empty streets and shadowy car parks.

When left on your driveway overnight, some inexpensive security lights could be enough to persuade the criminally-minded to move on to a more promising target.

Chris Jones is editor of PHAM News