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Four in five tradespeople experience tool theft, with an estimated £2.8 billion cost to industry as epidemic worsens
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Four in five tradespeople experience tool theft, with an estimated £2.8 billion cost to industry as epidemic worsens

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A new report has revealed that an estimated £2.8 billion worth of tools have been stolen from UK tradespeople, with four in five (78%) UK tradespeople experiencing tool theft.

The Tradespeople Against Tool Theft white paper, from the UK’s largest online construction community On The Tools and one of the UK’s largest providers of small business insurance Simply Business, alongside sponsor Jewson was created to highlight and explore the realities of UK tradespeople who have experienced tool theft.

The study found that tool theft costs tradespeople an average of £4,470 in equipment. One in five (17%) tradespeople lose over £5,000 worth of tools to theft. Collectively across the UK, the estimated cost of tool theft totals an eye-watering £2.8 billion cost, most predominantly affecting the self-employed.

The study revealed that self-employed tradespeople are 38% more likely to be targeted than employed tradespeople, with equipment most likely to be stolen from their van parked outside of their home (39%). One in 10 (9%) have even experienced equipment being stolen from inside the home or garage.

Aside from the cost of replacing stolen tools, tool theft leaves tradespeople facing additional costs in loss of earnings while equipment is being replaced. One in ten tradespeople (11%) had to take time off work or decline new work while they sourced new equipment. Over a tenth (13%) of respondents also had to pay to repair their vehicle, adding to the multiple other costs associated with the crime.

Worryingly, a third (32%) of tradespeople were not financially compensated at all for tool theft.

A recurring crime

Tool theft is an experience any tradesperson wouldn’t wish to go through once, but well over a third (37%) of tradespeople have had their tools stolen twice. In total, 4% of tradespeople have had their tools stolen a staggering five or more times, severely affecting financial income and mental wellbeing.

Self-employed electrician Nick Bundy from Staffordshire has been targeted by tool thieves four times. He said “I had my old van broken into four times. I was naïve to it all, so I replaced the tools and then a month later they stole all the stuff I had just bought again. The experience wiped me out.

“Not only did they steal all my stuff the first time, they knew to come back in a month’s time when I had replaced everything.

“I ended up with no money whatsoever, so I had to borrow tools and bits and bobs off other people”.

James Reeve, a self-employed Midlands-based Painter & Decorator recently had his tools stolen. James commented “It’s not like going into a store of a multi-billion pound conglomerate to steal a packet of sweets – you’re stealing someone’s livelihood. It should be treated in a similar way to an assault because that’s basically what it is; you’re taking people’s belongings, which results in potentially taking food off a family’s table. You don’t know what the impact of it is going to be”

The stolen tools market

On Tuesday 27th April 2021, a motion for leave to bring in a Bill was presented in the House of Commons. The Bill proposed a requirement for persons selling second-hand tools online to show the serial numbers of those tools in searchable advertisement text, and for connected purposes. This Bill, as it stands, has not become legislation, leaving the tradespeople of the UK unsupported against the crime of tool theft.

Consumer awareness around the crime is high, with 71% of consumers believing that the average tradesperson has had their tools stolen once or more during the past year. Yet, according to the study, over a fifth (23%) of consumers purchased second-hand and/or refurbished tools. Out of which 19% consumers purchased without making any checks.

Lee Wilcox, CEO of On The Tools, commented:

“Tool theft is crippling our industry. It’s an issue that impacts an immense proportion of UK tradespeople and can no longer be ignored.

“The Tradespeople Against Tool Theft white paper was created to reveal the widespread consequences of this crime, from the financial impacts to the emotional consequences and more.

“I am hopeful that by distributing this white paper to all corners of the construction industry and beyond, we can encourage the issue to be taken as seriously as it should be, improving the situation for UK tradespeople once and for all. I would also like to thank the industry sponsors and supporters of this research for your invaluable contributions.”

Alan Thomas, UK CEO at Simply Business, commented :

“We've seen the profound impact of tool theft first-hand, costing tradespeople £4,470 on average. Those on the receiving end are often forced to take time off work, and the financial hit – and longer term repercussions on future business – can inevitably affect wellbeing. "

“Tradespeople, like so many other business owners across the country, continue to battle rising costs, surging energy prices, and material shortages, all while continuing their recovery from the impact of the pandemic."

“At the very least, in the midst of a cost of living crisis, there needs to be wider recognition of the fact that tool theft is a problem for tradespeople of all types. Further than that, discussion should centre around how tool theft impacts everyone – when it happens, it affects the economy at large in terms of lost working days."

“At Simply Business, we're proud to partner with On The Tools to produce this white paper and reignite our campaign to Stamp Out Tool Theft. We hope that by shining a light on the scale and depth of the problem, revealing the true stories of those affected, and offering practical support for the community, we can contribute positively to change.”

You can gain full access to the White Paper provided by the team at On The Tools here:


Frequently asked questions

How much of stolen tools are recovered?

Only 1% of tradespeople fully recover their stolen tools.

Do people break into your van outside your house?

38.5% of tradespeople have their tools stolen outside their home from their van.

What percentage of tradespeople have had their tools stolen?

78% of Tradespeople have had their tools stolen.

What happens to people that steal tools?

When exploring the issue of tool theft in the UK, the police force should play an integral role. However, almost a quarter (22.67%) of tradespeople did not report the crime of tool theft to the police after their experience. For those who did report the crime, only 6% were satisfied or very satisfied with how the police handled their case. Owing to the severity of the implications of tool theft in comparison to general theft, 73% of tradespeople surveyed agreed that tool theft should carry a more severe penalty than general theft

How many tradespeople are affected by tool theft?

78% of tradespeople have had their tools stolen.

It is common for tradespeople to be significantly affected by tool theft without having their own tools stolen, for example, those who witness a tool theft taking place, or those who work for someone who has had

their tools stolen. For this reason, the number of tradespeople who are affected by tool theft can be anticipated to be considerably higher than the number of instances of tool theft.

Where is tool theft the worst in the UK?

Data shows that the area with the highest levels of tool theft is the South East of England at 17.98%, while being closely followed by London with 17.39% and then the West Midlands at 10.50%.

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Four in five tradespeople experience tool theft, with an estimated £2.8 billion cost to industry as epidemic worsens

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On The Tools

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