Tool Theft: London 2022 Hotspots Revealed

In over 86% of cases, the suspect is never identified.

This study was conducted by Herts Tools, specialist providers of plant and telehandler hire in London and the home counties. If you’d like to use the graphics or data from the study, please get in touch.

Tool theft has rocketed 150% over the last two years, hurting businesses already struggling due to inflation and the after-effects of the pandemic. 

As living costs spiral and people become desperate, various types of theft are on the rise. A new report reveals that nearly four in five tradespeople have experienced tool theft – all as tradespeople themselves struggle with the cost of living crisis. This has cost the industry an estimated £2.8 billion.

In London alone, 34,712 tools were stolen from January 2021 to October 2021. Over a longer, earlier period – from January 2019 to December 2020 – the figure was considerably less at 21,445. So 2021 brought a 62% increase.

But which areas in London suffer most from tool theft? We’ve once again investigated this harmful crime, gaining insight from the Metropolitan Police. We’ve uncovered the number of tool theft counts in each borough, the most commonly stolen tools and the occupations of those most impacted. 

Where in London is tool theft most common?

We analysed data spanning almost two years – from January 2021 to October 2022 – to find out which London borough had been impacted the most by tool theft. During that period, Barnet had the highest count of offences recorded, with a total of 2,081, followed by Enfield (1,794), Newham (1,761), Brent (1,367) and Waltham Forest (1,318).

Interestingly, Barnet topped the list in our previous tool theft report, with a total of 1,917 offences in 2019-21. The borough has experienced an 8% increase in this type of crime. Enfield also ranked as the second-most impacted borough in the last report.

At the other end of the scale, the five boroughs with the lowest numbers of thefts reported were all focused in south and south-west London:

  • Kensington and Chelsea – (333)
  • Kingston upon Thames – (385)
  • Richmond upon Thames – (416)
  • Sutton – (417)
  • Merton – (490)

Hammersmith & Fulham was listed in the previous report as one of the least-impacted boroughs. But it has recorded 589 incidents in 2021-22, compared to 371 in 2019/21 – an increase of 58% in the last two years alone. 

The latest data highlights that 70% of all London boroughs have seen a rise in tool theft. Camden has seen the largest increase, reporting 88% more in 2022 compared to the same period in 2021: an increase of 188% in the last two years. Sutton recorded the most significant reduction in 2022 compared to the same period in 2021, with tool theft there falling by 24%.

What type of tools are most commonly stolen?

Powered hand tools remain thieves’ top choice, with 22,005 stolen from January-October 2021 and January-October 2022. That’s almost four times the number of thefts compared to standard hand tools and equipment (5,641), accounting for 7 out of 10 items stolen. 

Non-powered hand tools were next on the list with 1,683 thefts, followed by garden tools and equipment (1,137), building materials (414) and ladders, steps and trestles (295).

Theft from motor vehicles represents a third of all tool thefts in 2021 and 2022. There were 6,468 tools stolen from vehicles in 2022, compared to 5,257 in 2021: an increase of almost a quarter. Shockingly, from January 2021 to October 2022, there were 10 times as many thefts from vehicles than building sites.

What occupations are most impacted by tool theft?

Builders are the most impacted victims of tool theft, reporting 290 incidents from both vehicles and building sites from January 2021 to October 2022. Builders are almost five times more likely to experience tool theft than electricians, who reported 60 counts during the same period. 

The next most-impacted occupations were engineers (45), the self-employed (41), plumbers (30) carpenters (29) and gardeners (18). 

Trades that reported the lowest numbers of tool thefts included tilers, scaffolders, painters, joiners, floor layers and carpet fitters. 

Some 11,484 reports were left by people who didn’t specify their occupation.

How to prevent tool theft

Between January 2021 and October 2022, just 0.3% of cases ended in a charge for the suspect (3 cases per 1,000). Yet, tool theft is increasing year-on-year in central London, so here are a few ways you can avoid falling victim to it. 

  • Don’t store tools in your van overnight.
  • Get a tool safe if you have to leave any tools in your van.
  • Always lock your van’s doors during the day, to keep opportunistic thieves out.
  • Place stickers on your van alerting potential thieves to alarms, safes and other protective measures.
  • Park in a busy area covered by CCTV.
  • Fit an alarm to your van.
  • Mark tools with your name and postcode.
  • Use security tags or chips to deter thieves and help recovery if something is stolen.
  • Apply brightly coloured paint to make them more identifiable and less attractive to thieves.

How can you recover your stolen tools?

Report your tools as stolen, calling the police on 101 immediately.

  • Find serial numbers, makes and models for your tools.
  • Retrieve photographs of your tools.
  • Make an insurance claim, giving your provider an itemised list of missing items.
  • Use any tracking devices to locate your tools, informing police where you suspect they are, rather than retrieving them yourself.
  • Visit local pawn shops to search for the items, as well as online marketplaces like eBay.
  • Join trade groups on social media, detailing the missing items – somebody else might find them.

Since recovery rates for tools are so low, do all that you can to prevent them from being stolen in the first place.