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Tool theft from vans in London soars 60%

Sarah Tooze
Written by  Sarah Tooze
Alicia Hempsted
Reviewed by  Alicia Hempsted
5 min read
Updated: 04 Jun 2024

An epidemic of tool thefts has hit London. The number of tool thefts from vans has massively increased in recent years, with suspicions that the cost-of-living increase may be behind it. Read on to find out more.

London is facing a ‘tool theft epidemic’, with the number of tools stolen from vans rising by 60% over the past three years, from 7,646 in 2020 to 12,285 in 2023.

This puts the livelihoods of tradespeople who don’t have insurance at risk as the value of the tools stolen from vans across London’s 32 boroughs reached £14.3 million last year, almost three times greater than 2020’s £5.5m.

The findings from a Freedom of Information request submitted to the Metropolitan Police by MoneySuperMarket1 came in as tradespeople descended on Westminster in their vans for a mass rally (3 June 2024)2.

They are calling for stricter enforcement of existing laws and a £10,000 fine for the organisers of car boot sales and markets if they permit the resale of stolen goods.

Trades United, which organised the van rally, believes the frequency of vehicle break-ins and thefts will decrease significantly if the opportunities for thieves to offload stolen goods are reduced.

More than 46,000 people signed Trades United’s petition ‘Ban the sale of used power tools at car boot sales and markets’ on the Petitions Committee website before the petition closed early due to the upcoming General Election in the UK3.

Where are London’s tool theft hotspots?

London Borough

Number of tool thefts from vans in 2023





















Rankings do not take into account population size

London Borough

Value of tool thefts from vans in 2023













Barking & Dagenham








Rankings do not take into account population size

Why is tool theft from vans on the rise?

One theory why tool theft from vans has risen so dramatically is that there is more demand for used tools due to the cost-of-living crisis and increased material costs.

More than half (58%) of tradespeople surveyed by On The Tools for its Tradespeople Against Tool Theft whitepaper thought it ‘very likely’ that the cost-of-living crisis would increase the chances of their tools being stolen4.

However, it’s also possible that more victims are coming forward to report their tools have been stolen as awareness of the issue has risen over the past few years, and law enforcement and the industry have been working to track offences.

How do criminals break into vans and steal tools?

Criminals may cut holes in panels, smash windows or use brute force to break into a van. If a van has keyless entry, they may use a device which ‘fools’ the van into thinking the remote key fob is close by, resulting in the van being unlocked.

Thefts also happen when a tradesperson has left their van unlocked while unloading or working nearby and a criminal spots an opportunity to steal the tools.

What is being done to tackle tool theft from vans?

The UK Government says it has no plans to ban the sale of used power tools at car boot sales and markets. However, it is consulting on extending the Equipment Theft (Prevention Act) 2023 to place a requirement for forensic marking on power tools used by tradespeople to prevent theft and resale - which was called for in the Tradespeople Against Tool Theft whitepaper.

The Government is also working with the police-led National Business Crime Centre (NBCC) and the Combined Industries Theft Solutions to explore ways to prevent the theft of tools from tradespeople’s vans.

Following engagement with the Home Office and National Vehicle Crime Working Group, Thatcham Research has agreed to add to its New Vehicle Security Assessment (NVSA), locks and alarms on the back of vans (previously NVSA only covered the cab area of vans) and a motion sensor on the load area of the van.

In addition, through the National Vehicle Crime Working Group, a network of vehicle crime specialists has been established, involving every police force in England and Wales, to ensure forces can share information about emerging trends in vehicle crime and better tackle regional issues.

The police are keen to receive more ‘community intelligence’ and are urging people to report ‘suspicious’ sellers online, at car boot sales or markets.

Preventative measures

There are a number of ways tradespeople can help prevent their tools being stolen or aid their recovery, including:

  • Fitting alarms, deadlocks and additional locks into the van interior.

  • Putting your keys in a signal blocking pouch.

  • Having a high security tool chest to an approved standard that bolts down to the vehicle cargo floor. It’s advisable to display a sticker on the van to say there is a lockable high security tool chest inside the vehicle.

  • Parking strategically so the rear or side doors can’t be easily accessed, and opting for well-lit, populated areas with CCTV cameras, if possible.

  • Fitting trackers to tools which give off a unique GPS radio frequency or GSM signal.

  • Marking tools with asset stickers or a forensic marking solution.

  • Fitting a CCTV camera inside the van.

  • Removing tools overnight and displaying a sticker that says no tools are left in the vehicle.

How can insurance help with tool theft from vans?

The financial impact of tool theft can be devastating, particularly for self-employed tradespeople.

The average UK tradesperson is likely to have between £1,000 and £5,000 worth of tools stolen from them in just one tool theft incident, according to On The Tools.

It found that 78% of tradespeople have had their tools stolen but only 1% were able to fully recover their stolen tools.

Theft can result in having to take time off work or decline work and having to pay for vehicle repairs as well as the cost of the tools. Some tradespeople experience multiple incidents and even give up their trade entirely.

Almost four in ten tradespeople surveyed by On The Tools said that having their tools stolen had had a ‘strong impact’ on their mental health, with the figure significantly higher for self-employed tradespeople.

Despite the impact, 83% did not have tool insurance in place at the time of their experience(s) with tool theft.

Through MoneySuperMarket tradespeople can get a dedicated tool insurance policy, which could cover up to £20,000 worth of tools and protect tools overnight whether they’re at home, at a business address, or in a locked van.

It’s also worth looking at comprehensive van insurance as third party van insurance won’t cover the cost of the van being repaired or replaced in the event of tool theft.


1 Information provided from Freedom of Information request by MoneySuperMarket to the Metropolitan Police for Tool Thefts from Vans for the period Recorded between 1st January 2019 and 31st December 2023