How to avoid tool theft for plumbers

Tool theft is a problem that affects large numbers of plumbing and heating engineers. In fact, almost 35 million people had their tools stolen in the last two years, ranging in value between £1,000 and £5,000. It is an issue that is crippling the industry, with its financial and emotional impact far reaching.

According to the On the Tools’ Tradespeople Against Tool Theft white paper, created in partnership with Insurance Provider Simply Business, 78% of tradespeople have had their tools stolen. Only 1% of tradespeople fully recovered their stolen tools and just 4% of tradespeople partially recovered their stolen stools. A further 68% of tradespeople surveyed stated that they worry about tool theft daily.

“We’re continuing our mission to protect tradespeople from tool theft and support those who do unfortunately experience it,” says Lee Wilcox, CEO and co-founder of On the Tools. “From lobbying for legislative change, to partnering with Simply Business to provide insurance that’s made for tradespeople, we’re determined to make things better.”

High risk

According to data from Leading Britain’s Conversation (LBC), the scale of tool theft is particularly prevalent in London, where nearly half of all reported cases occur. In fact, in London alone, more than 6,468 incidents involving tool thefts from vans occurred in 2022.

“The low rate for pressing charges in tool theft cases, as revealed by LBC, is another cause for concern,” says Stephen Holland, co-founder of ARMD. “Estimates suggest that only 2% of recorded cases in Derbyshire, Northumbria and West Yorkshire result in charges, while in Merseyside and Northamptonshire the charge rate is less than 7%. These disheartening statistics underscore the pressing need for increased efforts to combat tool theft.”

It would seem tradespeople’s confidence in the law is low, according to the white paper, as almost a quarter of tradespeople didn’t even report the crime of tool theft against them to the police. When tradespeople did contact the police about the crime, 81% were unsatisfied with the response they received and 94% of stolen tools were never recovered. Furthermore, 73% of tradespeople agreed that tool theft should carry a more severe penalty than general theft.

The fact that many tradespeople lack sufficient insurance coverage to protect themselves in the event of tool theft will leave a lot of individuals vulnerable in already challenging times. However, there are ways to protect your assets.

On the Tools partnered with Tell TVL to create a police-backed database to capture more granular data on light commercial vehicle crime. Since its launch last year, they’ve found that all makes and models have been attacked in an attempt to gain access to the load area and in some instances the entire vehicle itself is stolen.

“Vehicles are predominantly stolen for their parts but in some instances for the load area contents too,” reveals Alice Brookes, brand manager for On the Tools. “We are urging as many owners as possible to report their attacks so we can share this information with the police to try and stay one step ahead and tackle vehicle crime together – thieves thrive on silence, so let’s make some noise!”

On guard

Taking proactive measures can help to reduce the risk of tool theft, so ensure that the basics are covered at all times, even if you’re close to your vehicle. The Metropolitan Police advises vehicle owners to help secure their belongings by ensuring all doors are locked, windows and sunroofs are closed to prevent ‘fishing’.

Also, park in well-lit, high-footfall areas where potential thieves are more likely to be noticed.

“Marking tools clearly with identifying information, such as a name, company name and address using paint pens and a clear lacquer spray, can also deter thieves, as marked tools are less desirable and more difficult to sell,” advises Holland. “Additionally, putting lockable cabinets into vans, installing small cameras to record the vehicle’s interior and documenting valuable items with photographs and serial numbers can strengthen security measures and aid in recovery efforts.

“Government data reveals that in 2020 41% of thefts occurred on the owner’s street, with an additional 36% taking place in semi-private locations such as driveways or car parks. These statistics highlight the importance of remaining vigilant at all times and implementing comprehensive security measures.”

Crime prevention

To keep criminals at bay, there are several steps that plumbing and heating installers can take to reduce the risk of being targeted – from simple marking to tracking technology.

Marking tools is a simple yet effective way of keeping track of tools and can deter thieves looking to move stolen goods on quickly. In fact, 24% of tradespeople said they checked for markers or identifying elements such as engraved initials when purchasing second-hand or refurbished tools.

“Each van type can have a different kind of vulnerability, so covering those areas with extra security, such as deadlocks, could provide additional assurance,” says Brookes. “RFID [Radio Frequency Identification] blocking wallets or Faraday bags can stop your key’s signal from being used against you by criminals who can hack keyless entry vehicles, for example. Alarm systems can be rendered defunct when the ‘peel and steal’ method of break-in is applied too. However, there are now multiple alarms on the market created specifically for vans.

“Surveillance can also be a deterrent for potential thieves, but this is also a way of identifying criminals who have decided to steal tools or break into vans, garages, homes, and sheds.”

On the Tools’ white paper runs through many different options, from SmartWater and bluetooth devices to integrated GPS trackers, that help trace tools if they are stolen. Installers can register their belongings and tools on databases such as the Tell TVL vehicle crime log and Immobilise. All registered items and ownership details are viewable on the NMPR, so UK police forces can trace owners of lost and stolen property.

Take cover

Insurance is vital for plumbing and heating installers who carry tools in their vehicles. However, 83% of tradespeople admitted in the white paper to not having insurance at the time when their tools were stolen.

“In the realm of insurance, many general insurance companies tend to treat tool coverage as an afterthought, often attaching it to a trade’s public liability insurance policy,” says Holland. “However, this approach can prove costly. Dedicated tool insurance is essential, as it can make the difference between making a swift recovery or suffering prolonged work disruptions. Some tradespeople have learned this lesson the hard way, discovering too late that their insurance policy did not cover tools left overnight in their van.”

Although insurance policies designed specifically for tools do exist, many tradespeople continue to doubt that insurers will pay out.

“There is a need within the insurance industry to build up more trust with tradespeople who may have felt let down by insurers in the past,” says Brookes. “Insurers can show their dedication to good practice in order to make this commitment to tradespeople.”

On The Tools has partnered with Simply Business to provide insurance specifically for tradespeople that even covers tools left in a secured, unattended vehicle overnight as standard. Installers should check their own insurance policies to see exactly what is covered, including loss, damage and destruction while in transit.

“In the plumbing and heating world where the right tools are the lifeblood of the trade, protecting against tool theft is paramount,” says Holland. “With the alarming rise in incidents and the financial and emotional toll it takes on tradespeople, proactive measures are needed. There are solutions out there, ensuring that the tools of the trade remain firmly in the hands of those who need them most.”


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