The Equipment Theft (Prevention) Act: will it help protect the livelihood of tradespeople?

A tradesman drilling into a wall.

Tool theft has been a long-standing issue for tradespeople up and down the country, costing them time and money.

To help tackle the problem, the government has introduced new legislation - The Equipment Theft (Prevention) Act. The Act recently received Royal Assent, on the 20th July 2023, making it an official law.

In our recent study, we discovered that 57% of individuals who experienced tool theft suffered financial losses, with 41% reporting losses above £2,500 – a considerable amount during the current cost of living crisis we are facing. The new law aims to mitigate these crimes and ease the burden on tradespeople. But how exactly will it work?

In this article, Rob Rees, Divisional Director at Markel Direct, explains what the Equipment Theft (Prevention) Act is and what it means for you as a tradesperson, as well as providing guidance on how to safeguard your tools.

What is the Equipment Theft (Prevention) Act?

This Act is designed, "to prevent the theft and re-sale of equipment and tools used by tradespeople and agricultural and other businesses; and for connected purposes”.

Its primary focus is to curb the resale of stolen tools which often occurs through online platforms, like social network marketplaces, buy and sell groups and online auctions, and in person sales like car boot sales.

The law enables the government to establish rules that restrict the sale of selected equipment. This equipment includes off-road vehicles (e.g., quad bikes and ATVs) and tools primarily used in agriculture or business.

These rules may require security features like anti-theft devices and markings with unique identifiers to be placed on equipment. This will make it easier for tools to be traced by police if stolen and harder for thieves to sell them on.

The legislation also permits the government to introduce requirements on sellers of this type of equipment. Sellers may be expected to record details such as:

• the name and address of the buyer
• equipment specifications including the make and model
• date of sale
• the unique identifier

Still, it's worth noting that according to subsection (4)(b), the Act doesn't restrict the sale of equipment previously used for its intended purpose. This means second-hand sales of stolen tools might still pose a challenge.

What does this mean for tradespeople?

All in all, the new law seems to be a significant step in the right direction for tradespeople. While it can’t provide complete protection against tool theft, it will likely reduce the instances of stolen tools and equipment.

As a specialist insurer of tradespeople, we understand first-hand the devastating impact tool theft can have on small businesses. It’s not just the cost incurred to replace the tools, if you don’t have the right tools insurance, it’s also the impact it has on finishing a job and the stress this can cause.

When we carried out a survey on tool theft earlier this year, 51% of respondents reported losing more than three days of work due to tool theft. Losing this much income can have a devastating impact on small businesses, especially with the cost of materials, fuel and skilled labour going up.

Primarily, thieves steal tools for their monetary value. They often don’t have any intention of using them and instead want to make easy money from them. If forensic markings are used more frequently on tools and there are added rules in place for retailers of tools, this will deter more thieves from stealing tools.

It is however important to note that the regulations cannot be imposed on the sale of second-hand equipment. This means that the existence of a stolen tool resale market is likely to continue in the short term.

Four steps tradespeople can take to safeguard their tools and livelihood

1. Remove valuable tools from your van when unattended

35% of tradespeople surveyed by us remove tools from their vans overnight and only 2% of tool theft victims reported that their tools were stolen from their homes. This shows that removing your tools from your van overnight can be highly effective in preventing theft.

If removing all your tools from your van is not feasible, prioritise moving the most valuable items into a secure part of your home each evening.

2. Increase safety measures on your storage and vehicles

Most stolen tools are taken from tradespeople's vans, with 41% of survey respondents reporting them being stolen from parked vans at home and 27% from vans while on-site. Upgrading vehicle security with alarms, immobilisers, and tracking devices is crucial. Additionally, well-lit parking areas and security features like fencing and motion lighting on private drives can also improve safety.

3. Use visible deterrents

Visible deterrents like GPS tracking warnings, activated alarms and security cameras on your property overlooking your van can discourage potential thieves. The more risky it is for them to steal the tools, the less likely they are to take them.

Even dummy deterrents like fake cameras and stickers can be effective in deterring criminals. 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.

4. Get the right insurance

Surprisingly, 58% of the tradespeople we surveyed did not have tools insurance. For 25% of these individuals, this was due to them being unaware of the tools cover available. Tools insurance can cover the cost of replacing or repairing tools if they are lost, damaged or stolen. For example, if your tools were damaged due to flooding or a fire, tools insurance could cover the cost of replacing or repairing your tools – depending on the level of damage.

Tools insurance can cover a whole range of tools and equipment, for example power tools like sanders, drills and nail guns along with handheld tools like saws and chisels to name a few.

When you buy tools insurance you should always read your policy to make sure that where and how your tools are stored meets the criteria for claims against theft. This usually includes ensuring your tools are not left unattended, or in an unlocked van. Some types of tools insurance may only cover your tools during working hours so if you need overnight cover, double check that you’re buying tools insurance that will cover you 24 hours of the day.

Maintain records of your tools, including receipts, serial numbers, and photos, just in case the worst happens and you need to make a claim. Having these details to hand can speed up the claims process, meaning you can get back to work quicker. To find out more about tools insurance, click here.

As well as tools insurance, there are other types of trades insurance available to cover against the risks tradespeople are exposed to day to day.

This includes owned plant insurance and hired in plant insurance for larger pieces of equipment and public liability insurance and employers’ liability insurance to cover against risk of injury to members of the public or your employees.

Owned plant insurance

Owned plant insurance safeguards you from the financial burden of repairing or replacing your plant machinery in case of damage or loss.

It provides comprehensive coverage for various risks, including flood, fire, theft, and vandalism. Owned plant, refers to construction machinery and equipment valued at £5,000 or more, which your business owns and uses in connection with your projects. This covers a wide range of equipment, such as forklifts, cherry pickers, dumpers, and concrete mixers. For tradespeople, especially those who rely on such equipment daily, purchasing it can often be a more cost-effective choice than renting the equipment.

Hired plant insurance

Hired-in plant insurance offers financial protection when you've rented large and expensive machinery from another company. It covers various risks, including fire, flooding, theft, and vandalism, shielding you from compensation costs as stipulated in your terms of your hire agreement.

Hired-in plant refers to construction machinery and equipment temporarily leased under contract. This can include items like forklifts, cherry pickers, dumpers, and concrete mixers, which are often essential for construction projects. Due to their high costs and occasional usage, tradespeople frequently opt to rent rather than purchase such equipment.

At Markel, we offer specialist insurance for tradespeople from £7 a month* and can tailor your policy to meet your needs.

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*Price based on a handyman requiring £1 million of public liability insurance cover.

Cover starting from £8 a month