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Tool theft costs construction industry £2.8 billion

3-minute read

Stamp Out Tool Theft hero image
Sam Bromley

Sam Bromley

3 October 2022

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A new report reveals that nearly four in five tradespeople have experienced tool theft, at an estimated £2.8 billion cost to the industry.

Simply Business has partnered the UK’s largest online construction community, On The Tools, to create the Tradespeople Against Tool Theft whitepaper.

The report features data and hard-hitting stories that reveal the extent of the problem. It’s part of our renewed campaign to Stamp Out Tool Theft, which began in 2019 with our government petition.

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Tool theft costs tradespeople an average of £4,470

The Tradespeople Against Tool Theft report reveals:

  • almost four in five (78 per cent) of tradespeople have had their tools stolen
  • only one per cent of tradespeople ever recovered their stolen tools
  • almost two in five (38.5 per cent) of tradespeople have had tools stolen from outside their home

What’s more, tool theft costs tradespeople an average of £4,470 in equipment – and nearly one in five (17 per cent) tradespeople lose over £5,000 worth of tools to theft.

Collectively across the UK, the estimated cost of tool theft totals £2.8 billion, predominantly affecting the self-employed.

Self-employed tradespeople more likely to be targeted

Our data shows that self-employed tradespeople are 38 per cent more likely to be targeted than employed tradespeople.

Thieves don’t just target vans – one in 10 tradespeople (nine per cent) have had tools stolen from their home or their garage.

Tool theft is a particular issue for the self-employed, as it leaves them with lost earnings while their tools are being replaced.

One in 10 tradespeople (11 per cent) had to take time off work or decline new work while they sourced new equipment. Over a tenth (13 per cent) of respondents also had to pay to repair their vehicle, adding to the range of costs associated with tool theft.

A third (32 per cent) of tradespeople weren’t financially compensated at all for tool theft.

Tool theft is a recurring crime

Well over a third of tradespeople (37 per cent) have had their tools stolen twice, with four per cent of tradespeople even experiencing tool theft five or more times. This affects their income and mental wellbeing.

Nick Bundy, an electrician, tells his story in the Tradespeople Against Tool Theft whitepaper: “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.

“So 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 from other people.”

Will the government tackle the stolen tools market?

On 27 April 2021, a Bill was presented in the House of Commons. The Bill proposed a requirement for those selling second-hand tools online to show the serial numbers of their tools in searchable advertisement text.

This hasn’t yet become law, leaving the tradespeople unsupported when it comes to recovering stolen tools on the second-hand market.

According to our study, over a fifth (23 per cent) of consumers bought second-hand and/or refurbished tools, but 19 per cent bought without making any checks.

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.”

We calculated the £2.8 billion figure by using data from Statista, which says there were approximately 810,000 self-employed workers in the UK construction industry in the third quarter of 2021.

If 78 per cent of tradespeople have had their tools stolen, according to our report, that means there 631,800 tradespeople affected.

The average cost of tool theft is £4,470.50, which multiplied by 631,800, equals £2,798,558,100.

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Sam Bromley

Written by

Sam Bromley

Sam has more than 10 years of experience in writing for financial services. He specialises in illuminating complicated topics, from IR35 to ISAs, and identifying emerging trends that audiences want to know about. Sam spent five years at Simply Business, where he was Senior Copywriter.

We create this content for general information purposes and it should not be taken as advice. Always take professional advice. Read our full disclaimer

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