A new report has revealed an estimated £2.8 billion worth of tools have been stolen from UK tradespeople, with a staggering 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, 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 their home or garage.
Aside from the cost of replacing stolen tools, tool theft incurs 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 plethora of 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 said, “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.
Alan Thomas, UK CEO at Simply Business said, “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.”
Lee Wilcox, CEO of On The Tools, added, “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.”