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Top tips on tackling tool theft



Having tools stolen can have a severe impact on installers’ livelihoods. We asked experts to provide some advice on how to beat the thieves – and what to do if you fall victim to tool theft


For tradespeople like our loyal installers, tools are essential – which makes tool theft a nightmare scenario.

If you’re a self-employed installer, it can mean that you can’t do your job, which can have a huge impact on your livelihood and your reputation among customers whose work is delayed.

Plus, there’s the financial strain of replacing your stolen gear and repairing your van after thieves have broken in.

The Tradespeople Against Tool Theft report by online community On The Tools lays bare how widespread this crime is.

It estimates that tool theft in the UK costs a staggering £2.8 billion a year. And 78% of tradespeople have had their tools stolen at least once during their career – costing them an average of £4,470 – yet only 1% recovered all of them.

So, we asked crime prevention experts for their advice on some simple yet effective things you can do to avoid falling victim to criminals.

"Thieves target vehicles and trailers that appear easy targets”

Keep tools secure or out of sight

According to the report, almost 39% of tradespeople said they’ve had tools stolen when their van has been parked outside their home.

Paul Denison, West Yorkshire Police’s Crime Prevention Officer, recommends locking large equipment that can’t fit in a toolbox to your vehicle with a chain and padlock. Ladders should be similarly secured, or taken off your vehicle and placed inside your home if possible.

“Thieves target vehicles and trailers that appear easy targets, Paul says. “If they can’t see your gear from the street, then you’re less likely to fall victim.”

Think about where you park

Carefully consider where you leave your van while on a job, in the merchants or on your break, warns Superintendent Patrick Holdaway, from the National Business Crime Centre at City of London Police.

“CCTV, street lighting and high footfall areas can act as a deterrent to some criminals. It can also assist in the detection of crime, especially if used in conjunction with other security measures.

“Use a car park approved under the Park Mark scheme wherever possible. Where this isn’t possible, park in areas covered by CCTV cameras.”

Upgrade your physical security

Even if your vehicle has an electronic locking system, you could still be vulnerable, advises Supt Holdaway.

“Upgrading locks and alarm systems will provide your vehicle and tools with additional security,” he says.

“You should use secondary alarms which aren’t controlled by the central locking system as these can’t be disarmed by thieves accessing the control panel on the van or using a ‘stolen’ central locking signal.”

ID your equipment

Paul Denison suggests indelibly marking all your tools to make them traceable, so they’re harder for thieves to sell and easier to identify if the police recover them.

“Tools account for one of the largest amounts of stolen goods recovered by the police,” he says. “While we endeavour to get these back to their legitimate owners, it can be extremely difficult if we don’t have anything to go on.

“Several methods provide excellent means for marking tools – for example, SmartWater, which consists of a liquid containing a code which can be seen under ultraviolet light, and advanced forensic marking SelectaDNA.

“Alternatively, simply using a UV pen to write your postcode or what3words [address] can sometimes make the difference between getting your property returned or not.”

"Tool theft is hugely disruptive for hardworking tradespeople who rely on their tools for their livelihoods”

Insure your tools

According On The Tools, only 17% of respondents were insured when they had their equipment stolen.

So it's crucial to have insurance to cover the cost of replacing your tools, says Alison Traboulsi, Product Manager at Direct Line for Business, which found that tools were stolen from a vehicle every 27 minutes in 2022.

"Tool theft is hugely disruptive for hardworking tradespeople who rely on their tools for their livelihoods,” she says, “so it’s vital that they do all they can to help protect themselves.”

What to do if you're a victim of tool theft

Unfortunately, even with the best preventions tactics, there's always a risk of having your tools stolen. So, what should you do if it does happen?

Always tell the police about a theft, advises Supt Holdaway, so they can investigate and give you a crime reference number, which you’ll need for an insurance claim.

“Reporting a crime allows police to capture the data and understand the full scale of the crime, which in turn informs their resources and tactics to tackle it,” he says.

“When a crime is taking place, dial 999 in an emergency. You can also report it to the police on 101 or online at”

Once the police are aware, begin your claims process. Direct Line for Business recommends that you should have an itemised list to support your claim.

Having a detailed list of your tools – including serial numbers – also means that the police can identify them if they’re found, advises West Yorkshire Police’s Paul Denison.

“If victims just say they’ve had a drill stolen, then this gives us very little to go on,” he says. “It’s much easier if they can state a make and model number.”

Tool-loan schemes can help you to carry on working if yours are stolen.

Plumbing merchant Williams & Co runs the Tool Angel initiative, which lends tradespeople a kit of tools worth £2,300 for up to three weeks. At the end of the loan period, you can choose to purchase a new kit with a 15% discount.

Ray Stafford, Chair of Williams and Founder of Van Watch, which campaigns against tool theft, says: “Unfortunately, we can’t stop tool thieves, but we can help businesses who find themselves the victims of tool crime to recover quickly.”