How to guard against metal theft

  • Metal theft is a significant risk for many organisations
  • Your organisation should know not only about the value of the metal that thieves could steal, but also the damage and disruption they could cause
  • We discuss the type of properties most likely to be targeted, and the steps you can take to deter thieves

Although significant efforts have been made in recent years to tackle metal theft, it remains a major risk for organisations across the UK.

It’s vital you do whatever you can to disrupt the thieves’ operations so they go elsewhere in search of a soft target,”
Robin Edwards, former Deputy Lead for the National Metal Theft Taskforce

Our claims data shows that major losses linked to metal thefts have risen dramatically over the past decade.

In England and Wales, the Scrap Metal Dealers Act was introduced in October 2013 to make it harder for thieves to sell stolen metal. It requires dealers to hold a licence to trade and gives councils extra powers to deal with rogue operations.

In Scotland, new regulations banning the use of cash to buy and sell scrap metal came into force on 1 September this year.

Which properties do metal thieves target?

The types of premises being targeted most frequently include:

  • Historic buildings, especially churches
  • Out-of-town retail units
  • Vacant or isolated industrial units

Robin Edwards, who runs a consultancy advising organisations on how to combat metal theft, says: “Copper and lead are the two metals that thieves most frequently target, as they are the easiest to steal with the highest value.”

Damage and clean-up costs add to metal theft risk

For property-owning organisations, the greatest losses often result from the trail of destruction that thieves leave behind.

Squatting is not a crime and it can take several weeks to evict intruders using the civil courts.

Pauline White, Managing Underwriter, at Zurich, says this drawn-out process gives thieves time to strip a property of its valuable metal and cause significant damage to the fabric of a building.

White says: “The theft of the metal itself has almost become the lesser part of the loss.

“Over the last few months we have handled three claims which, due to the damage caused to the buildings and the clean-up costs, were each worth over £200,000.”

How to prevent metal thefts

Should thieves manage to make off with a haul of valuable metal, it is almost inevitable they will target the same premises again, says Edwards.

“It’s vital you do whatever you can to disrupt the thieves’ operations so they go elsewhere in search of a soft target,” he says.

Security measures that should be considered include:

  • Intruder alarms
  • Concrete blocks (to slow down intrusion)
  • Monitored CCTV
  • 24-hour security guarding

In addition, you should carry out regular and thorough inspections of any vacant properties. This is something that many insurers, including Zurich, insist on when providing commercial property cover.

Organisations with multiple properties may also want to consider using data analytics to help prioritise their spending on security measures.

Edwards says: “I have worked with a utility company that uses crime mapping so that it can evaluate which of its substations are at greatest risk from thieves and focus its resources accordingly.”

How Zurich can help

Our Risk Engineers can work with your organisation to help identify where you may be vulnerable to metal thieves. We have also put together some useful guidance on protecting unoccupied buildings from metal thieves.

White says: “Despite the introduction of the Scrap Metal Dealers Act, metal thefts have not gone away.

“We are liaising with the Association of British Insurers to exert political pressure to get metal thefts higher up the national agenda, so that more resources are made available to tackle the problem.”