£17.5m tools stolen from vans in London in 2020 alone

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Unprecedented rise in tool theft sees thieves target vans with Barnet the most risky place to leave your van in London.

With restrictions on non-essential building work during Covid-19 lockdowns, builders and tradesmen have been hit hard by the pandemic. New data has now revealed that almost £17.5 million in tools were stolen in London last year.

The data shows that tools are six times more likely to be stolen from vans than other vehicles with tradesmen being targeted with more and more costs along with constantly being aware that they need to look after their tools as without them the cannot make a living. While powered hand tool theft is 10 times more common than thieves stealing non-powered tools, this means tradespeople face losing high-value items when they can least afford it.

Many homeowners also have tools but are not in the trade need an upsurge in people buying tools for DIY projects opens them up to being targeted by thieves with as much as 50% of Londoners carrying out home improvement work.

Tool theft in the capital


So which London boroughs suffer most from tool theft? To find out, Herts Tools requested information from the Metropolitan Police on the number of tool thefts in each borough, which vehicles they are most commonly stolen from and the total cost of tool theft in the capital for 2019 and 2020.

Thieves know that vans contain high-value tools and, as a result, vans in London are more than six times more likely to become targets of tool theft than saloon cars. Between January 2019 and April 2021, there were 20,256 reports of tool theft from vans in London. Saloon cars accounted for 3,108 cases and hatchback cars only constituted 1,087 reports of tool theft.

The total figure of 24,451 for these three vehicle types was more than eight times the combined number of thefts from other vehicles, which included motorbikes, lorries and estate cars.

From £20.7 million in 2019, the total value of tool theft in London dropped to £17.5 million in 2020, a decrease of 15%. Similarly, the average value of tools stolen per month fell from £1.72 million (the cost of 172,000 power drills) in 2020 to £1.46 million (almost enough to buy 219,000 step ladders) so far in 2021.

When figures are broken down to the daily cost of tool theft, an average of almost £57,000 worth of tools was stolen each day in 2020. Up to now in 2021, that figure stands at around £48,000.

While these are significant decreases, tool theft is still costing tradesmen and the building industry millions each year.

We analysed data spanning two years to capture annual data prior to lockdown, and data throughout lockdown. From 2019 up to May 2021, there were 28,338 tool thefts across London.

When this is broken down into individual boroughs, two neighbouring north London boroughs: Barnet (1,917 offences) and Enfield (1,833) top the list. Enfield suffered almost a third as many cases as the next three boroughs: Ealing (1,273), Waltham Forest (1,238) and Haringey (1,237).

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

  • Merton (475)
  • Richmond upon Thames (439)
  • Hammersmith and Fulham (371)
  • Kensington and Chelsea (371)
  • Kingston upon Thames (327)

Powered hand tools are by far thieves’ favourite choice, with their 32,067 thefts more than 10 times the 2,993 thefts of non-powered hand tools between January 2019 and April 2021. Garden tools are next on the list with 1,942 thefts, followed by building materials (585) and ladders/steps/trestles (538).

Types of tool stolen

Powered hand tools are usually the highest-priced tools, which explains thieves’ attraction to them. It also makes it even more frustrating that only 1% are ever recovered after being stolen.

Building materials are retrieved most often: 4% of the time. But even this figure is a small fraction of the materials stolen, underlining how difficult it can be to recover stolen tools.

Most common vehicles broken into


  • Retrieve serial numbers, makes and models for your tools. It’s always a good idea to keep records of this information.
  • Report your items as stolen. Call the police on 101 as soon as you notice the tools are missing.
  • Search for them online (including on eBay and Facebook Marketplace) and in local pawn shops. If you find them, ask the seller to hold the tools for you and then contact the police.
  • Join trade groups on social media and ask others to look out for your items.
  • Make an insurance claim, providing the insurer with your itemised list.

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


  • Don’t store tools in your van overnight.
  • If you have to leave tools in your van for any length of time, park with rear or sliding doors against a wall or fence. Parking in a busy area covered by CCTV will also deter thieves.
  • Get an alarm, a lockable interior cabinet or interior deadbolts for your van. These measures make it harder – and noisier – for thieves to get at your tools.
  • Make your tools less attractive to thieves by removing brand name plates and marking them with neon spray paint. This will also make them easier to identify if they do get stolen.
  • Make thieves aware of the safety measures you’ve taken by placing stickers on your van to deter them.