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How to prevent metal theft

At a glance

  • Metal theft is a significant risk for many types of organisation
  • Your Real Estate customers should know the value of the metal that thieves could steal, and cost of damage and disruption they could cause
  • We discuss the types of business most likely to be targeted, and the steps your customers can take to deter metal thieves

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By reading this article, and correctly answering the three questions underneath, you will have achieved the following learning outcome: Summarise how the insurance market is responding to real estate risks.

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

Our Real Estate claims data (see infographic) shows how 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 owners, the greatest losses often result from the trail of destruction that thieves leave behind.

As we have discussed previously, squatting on commercial properties is not a crime and it can take businesses several weeks to evict intruders using the civil courts.

Pauline White, Managing Underwriter, Real Estate Insurance 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.

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

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

“We have seen a worrying trend this year in metal theft losses increasing, together with associated damage to the buildings and clean up costs. In some cases the losses have reached six figures.”

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 Robin.

“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, your customers should ensure they 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.

Customers with larger portfolios may also want to consider using data analytics to help prioritise their spending on security measures.

Robin 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 customers to help identify where they may be vulnerable to metal thieves. We have also put together some useful guidance on protecting unoccupied buildings from metal thieves.

Pauline 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.”

For more information, or to discuss any aspect of this article further, speak to your local Zurich contact.

Metal Theft

Image © Getty

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