Worryingly, a van is broken into every 23 minutes in the UK – catapulting the rate of tool theft up by over 30% compared to last year. Police figures further estimate that this figure has rocketed by nearly two thirds in two years. In 2014/15, there was a worrying 14,063 reported tool thefts, to which this number rose to 22,749 in the year 2016/17. With these figures, many van owners and authorities are now raising their concerns that we are witnessing a van tool theft epidemic.

The prevalent issue

Yorkshire and the Midlands are supposedly the places with the most at-risk tradesmen of tool theft, according to a survey by Simply Business. London is the city at the most risk, with between 200 and 300 tool theft claims reported in 2016, closely followed by Bristol in second place and Sheffield in third. And it appears that it is not just the number of van thefts on the rise, but also the value of van theft claims, with a 40% increase in the average value of tool theft claims witnessed between 2012 and 2016.

Simply Business furthermore revealed that they processed a total value of £1.9 million in theft claims in 2015 – a number that then rose to £2.8 million the following year in 2016. The average tool theft claim value now stands at around £1626 as thieves steal more valuable equipment – a 40% increased on the average claim value in 2015.

Campaigners claim there are two methods in particular to blame for the increase in tool theft – the ‘peel and steal’ method, and the use of skeleton keys. The peel and steal method is where criminals use their bodyweight to ‘peel’ the van open and then lift the top of the side door open to reveal any tools located in the van. A method that resembles opening a tin of sardines – and one that many tradesmen have now become aware of. The method has become so popular that campaigners estimate that a total of five tool thefts everyday are committed using the peel and steal method.

Known as a legally used locksmith tool, the skeleton key has now become readily and easily available online to the general public at the cost of just £20. According to Steffan George from the Master Locksmith Association, these are “legitimate locksmith’s tools…but they should not be available to everyone.” He goes on to say that they would welcome a restriction on the sale of skeleton keys.


Tool theft not only causes disruption to business, but it can actually bring business to a stand-still – their tools are crucial to their work, and avoiding van break-ins can be tough. Used vans specialist Van Monster present this guide on protecting your van from tool theft.

Prioritise security

For many businesses, the use of their van is integral to the running of their day-to-day duties, so security should be high up on your priority list when buying a company vehicle – a break-in could cost you days if not weeks of work with your van out of action, or a loss of tools. Most modern models offer a good selection of security features to protect your van. Consider tinted windows to reduce visibility, an alarm, immobiliser or deadlocks for all your doors. Whilst they may be an added expense when you buy your van, they could save you money in the long-term in if they protect your van and tools from theft and damage which could also result in you being unable to work.

Lock your van

Security systems are only worth the investment if you make the most of them. Whenever you leave your van unattended, you should always lock it up, including closing all windows and doors. Thieves will take any opportunity they can if they think you have something worthwhile stealing in your van.

Store tools safely

Do not tempt any potential thieves by leaving your tools on show, or storing them overnight in your van. You should also consider storing your tools safely indoors overnight and leaving your van empty. Many tradesmen put stickers on their vans to act as a deterrent telling thieves that there are no tools stored in the vehicle overnight.

Be aware of what is in your van

Keep a note of all the tools that are in your van at all times. It would be worthwhile retaining the receipts of your tools, especially more expensive and valuable tools, in case you need to make an insurance claim and need to prove the item was included.

Choose your parking location carefully

The location that you park your vehicle can also help prevent a break-in. It is wise to ensure you park your van within a busy area that is likely to have a lot of people around – or in a location that is covered by CCTV. This way you can deter potential thieves from targeting your van, and in the event that your van is broken into, there are likely to be witnesses or CCTV footage.

Tool insurance

Tool theft is a risk that unfortunately cannot be fully eliminated. You should consider specific tool insurance to ensure that all your tools are cover should you ever find yourself, or your company, a victim of tool theft.

For more information: www.simplybusiness.co.uk or www.vanmonster.com


Dellow, Bonny. ‘Claims data reveals tradesman tool theft up 30% (with Yorkshire and the Midlands most at risk)Simply Business. 

Dellow, Bonny. ‘The £20 skeleton key behind thousands of UK tool theftsSimply Business.

Epidemic’ of van tool thefts blamed on skeletonBBC Newsbeat.

Spillet, Richard. ‘New ‘peel and steal’ craze sees thieves swiping tools worth thousands in seconds as they open tradesmen’s vans like tins of sardinesDaily Mail Online.