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Increases in Metal Theft Poses Challenge for Listed Building Owners

As the recession continues to bite, and price of metals continues to rise, there has been a steady increase in the number of thefts of precious metals from historical and listed buildings...

Lead, copper, aluminium are just some of the old-fashioned roofing metals commonly used on many older listed buildings (such as schools, churches and other historical buildings). Precious metals are frequently used for factory roofs, flashing for chimneys and wiring and fencing for industrial and commercial premises. Unfortunately, these types of properties are now frequent targets for criminals, hoping to sell their stolen metals to scrap metal dealers. Thieves have also been known to strip all of the wiring out of a construction site, left up manhole covers, pull up street grates, remove water pipes and even steal an air-conditioning unit for the copper inside.

The problem has become so bad that the Government is introducing new rules regarding eliminating cash purchases at UK scrap metal merchants. Likewise, despite the introduction of new rules regarding the requirement for an ID check before a scrap metal can take place, the problem of meta thievery is getting steadily worse.

Frustratingly for owners, when a building is left empty and boarded up, or with a 'to let' sign outside, it announces to local criminals that precious metals may be left unoccupied for the picking. To make matters worse, many landlords and second homeowners choose to leave the heat on and the water running, (so their pipes won't freeze up in the winter weather). However, if the copper piping is stolen by the thieves in this situation, the resultant building insurance claim for water damage can be even worse than the theft of the metal itself.

One possible response could be to replace your lead or copper roof with a less valuable alternative material. For some repeat victims this may be a more economical solution, as insurance companies battle to mitigate the losses they are currently experiencing. Whilst theft is a core cover of most building insurance policies, the continued targeting of metal roofs by thieves presents a specific problem for UK insurance of listed or historical buildings. Many historical buildings are listed. This means that any theft or damage of its metal or materials should ultimately result in a restoration on a like-for-like basis, once the claim has been settled. Local authorities follow strict guidelines regarding listed building status, and most listed building owners are all to aware of these restrictions regarding changing original materials or features during repairs. So in the past, thieves have repeatedly targeted the same building over a period of time, once a new roof has been replaced and paid for by the insurance company.

The general reaction by UK insurance industry has been predictable. Some insurers have capped the value of total claims in any one year paid out. It is likely that policyholder may also see an increase in the levels of excess per insurance policy. Although the response to the problem varies by insurance company, homeowners, second home owners and listed building owners should check their policy wording carefully at renewal time. Unfortunately, it is highly unlikely local authorities will yield to calls from the insurance industry to relax the rules regarding using different building materials to replace original metal features.

So what can be done? Some building owners have introduced increased security CCTV to ward off hopeful thieves. Discussions continue in Government regarding some type of security identification scheme, for precious materials by geographic location. Yet, if the price of precious metals continues to rise, the likely outcome will be more thefts, more claims and less insurer policies on the market (in what is already a niche market). It is also likely there will be a general increase in the excess levels or premiums quoted to owners of listed buildings with metal roofs, (especially if they have previously made insurance claims for theft in the past).

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