The Equipment Theft (Prevention) Act bill received Royal Assent on 20 July 2023, meaning it is now an Act of Parliament (law). Tool theft is a persistent issue faced by tradespeople, both those employed within a company and sole-traders. According to a recent survey by Markel Direct, who offer specialist insurance for tradespeople, 57% of those that had their tools stolen suffered a loss of earnings as a result, with 41% of those reporting a loss of over £2500, a significant amount in the current cost of living crisis. This new law could help to reduce the number of these incidents.
Rob Rees, Divisional Director of Markel Direct, explains the new law and gives advice on how tradespeople can protect their tools and livelihood from theft.
What is the Equipment Theft (Prevention) Act?
The law states that it is “An Act to make provision to prevent the theft and re-sale of equipment and tools used by tradespeople and agricultural and other businesses; and for connected purposes.”
The primary aim of tool theft is the resale value, whether that is through places like social network marketplaces, buy and sell groups, online auction sites or even at car boot sales.
This law allows the government to create rules that limit the sale of certain equipment. The equipment in question includes vehicles meant for off-road use (such as quad bikes and ATVs) or equipment primarily used in agriculture or business (such as tools). These rules could require the equipment to have security features like anti-theft devices and markings with a unique identifier.
The law also allows the government to introduce requirements for sellers of such equipment to record specific information about the sale, such as the name and address of the buyer, the make and model of the equipment, date of sale and the unique identifier.
However, according to subsection (4)(b), the law doesn’t restrict the sale of equipment that has been previously used for its intended purpose. This implies that if the equipment was stolen after its primary intended use and then sold, it might not fall under the scope of this law’s restrictions, and therefore second-hand sales of stolen tools will still be an issue.
So, how can tradespeople protect their tools?
As a specialist insurer of tradespeople, we know first-hand the devastating impact tool theft can have on a sole trader or small business. In a survey we conducted earlier this year, more than half of respondents reported losing more than 3 days of work due to tool theft; an unwelcome cost to absorb at a time when the trades sector is already facing price inflation in materials, fuel and skilled labour.
The act has the potential to deter would-be thieves by introducing forensic marking of equipment, and recording of the owner’s details, at the point of sale by retailers – but it’s important to note, however, the regulations cannot be imposed on the sale of second-hand equipment. As such, the existence of a stolen tool resale market is likely to continue in the short term.
Enhanced safety measures on storage/vehicles
According to our survey, the majority of tools stolen are taken from vans of tradespeople: 41% from vans parked at home and 27% from their vans while “on-site” – so upgrading security on work vehicles should be a priority.
Our research shows that out of the tradespeople that had tools stolen, only 16% have invested in additional locks for their van in addition to the ones already on the vehicle.
Installing alarms, immobilisers, and tracking devices in work vehicles can help to deter thieves. They should also ensure that the area the van is parked in is well-lit, or possibly secured. Consider fencing private drives and using motion lighting to increase security.
Remove valuable tools when unattended
Our study also revealed that just over a third (35%) of tradespeople go to the trouble to remove their tools from their vans overnight. However, only 2% of victims of tool theft reported that the tools were stolen from their home, compared to those who had tools stolen from their van while parked at home.
For some tradespeople, removing all tools and equipment from a work van each night is an inconvenient and timely task. Ultimately, however, it is one of the most effective ways of preventing your tools being stolen. If removing all tools isn’t possible, prioritise moving the most valuable items (by cost and day-to-day use) to a secure location inside the property.
Make sure they are insured
Despite the risk of loss of earnings, the same study found that 58% of the tradespeople questioned didn’t have insurance for their tools, and of those 25% cited their reason for not doing so as “Didn’t know tools insurance was available”.
Tools insurance is there to cover the cost of replacing or repairing your equipment if it is damaged or lost, for example due to theft, but also in cases of flooding or fire.
This coverage typically extends to power tools (sanders, drills, nail guns, etc.) and handheld tools (saws, chisels, etc).
Be sure to check your policy to ensure that where your tools are stored meets the criteria for claims against theft. This usually includes ensuring they are not left unattended, or in an unlocked van. It’s also worth keeping a record of the tools you own – including receipts, serial numbers, and photographs – as this can help insurers pay your claim as quickly as possible. Additionally, forensically marking your tools can help the police return them to you if they are recovered.
Use visible deterrents
Targets for theft are usually determined by opportunity and ease. If visible deterrents are used, such as a sticker warning of GPS tracking, an alarm that blinks to show it is activated, and CCTV on your property pointing at the van, the van is going to be less of a target due to the potential hassle and increased likelihood of being caught.
Sometimes even dummy deterrents are enough, like dummy cameras and fake stickers. This way it is a gamble for the thief to call the owner’s bluff, but it remains a risk for the owner if they do.
The act is a much-needed step forward in tackling tool theft, and we welcome the proposed introduction of theft deterrents on equipment and recording of buyer details at the point of sale. However, we expect a stolen tool market to remain for the foreseeable future, as the regulation won’t be imposed on second-hand sales. As such, we strongly encourage tradespeople to take the steps outlined to protect their tools and prevent costly disruption to their livelihood.
To find out more, visit the Markel Direct website.
Building, Design & Construction Magazine | The Choice of Industry Professionals