Employee theft in the UK

Who steals the most from their employers?
 
Andrew Fennell photo Andrew Fennell | Jan 2022

Employee theft in the UK could be something as small as taking small items of stationery, or it could range to stealing huge sums of money, or even walking out of the office with a range of high-end computers and tech.

Ultimately, no one should be stealing from their employers, but as one YouGov poll shows, at least 38% of British employees are happy to admit they have at some point done so.

We wanted to find out how widespread this issue is, how the pandemic has affected this pastime, and where in the UK harbours the most dishonest employees. We sent out 45 Freedom of Information (FOI) requests to UK police forces to request data on how many crimes they have recorded where someone was caught stealing from their employer in the last few years. Here’s what we found.

 

Contents

 

Key findings:

  • Proportionally, the region with the most theft by employees is Northamptonshire with 0.11 thefts per employee.
  • The regions with proportionally the fewest employee thieves are the City of London (0.02 thefts per employee), and the South Area in Northern Ireland (0.03 thefts per employee).
  • The highest number of employee thefts in one year was recorded in Greater London by the Metropolitan Police in 2019 totalling 1,521 incidents.
  • More people were caught stealing from employers on trains (110) than in Belfast (80) or the City of London (53) in the last 3 years.
  • Across England, Wales, and Northern Ireland, the pandemic caused employee thefts to drop by 35% from 2019 to 2020.

 

What is employee theft?

The UK Government discusses theft by an employee as a crime that is undertaken by one employee or a group of employees, where the property or asset being stolen is owned by the employer. They give two examples:

  1. “A cleaner admits to the police to stealing from the five companies he/she has worked for.”
  2. “A factory worker admits for the first time to stealing from his work over a number of years, various parts for himself and his friends.”

 

Looking into this further, one HR company states the definition of employee theft can involve any of the following:

  • Cash
  • Supplies
  • Company property
  • Company and personal data
  • Company time

It’s a broad crime, but ultimately, if an employee takes something from the business or employer without permission, it’s likely going to be considered theft by an employee. Let’s look at the worst regions in the UK for employee theft.

 

Map of employee theft in the UK

Employee theft UK data

 

Data note: Scotland was not included in this analysis as the Scottish Police Force does not collect specific data on thefts by employees. They were contacted but could not provide information. West Mercia opted not to send data within 3 months of the FOI request. The map reflects police force boundaries, not geographical county lines. 

 

Overall, employee theft has decreased 35% from 2019 – 2020 with the pandemic and working from home undoubtedly having an impact on this. Comparing nine months of 2021 to 2020, we can see that there has been a further 37% decrease in the number of employee thefts around the country.

In terms of the outright total number of crimes, Greater London is the worst region for employee thefts in the UK with 2,795 recorded by the Metropolitan police since 2019. It’s important to note however, this is with an estimated 5.3 million employees in 2020, over 3.6 million more than the next highest region, Greater Manchester.

When you look at the data proportionally against the number of employed adults in the region, the data paints a different picture with Northamptonshire on top.

 

Ranking Region Country Total Reported Thefts
(2019-2021)
Total thefts per
100,000 employees
1 Northamptonshire England 479 106.2
2 Warwickshire England 294 87.4
3 Cheshire England 446 71.1
4 Staffordshire England 471 71.0
5 Durham England 250 69.5
6 West Yorkshire England 949 69.1
7 South Yorkshire England 556 66.9
8 Bedfordshire England 272 66.1
9 Cambridgeshire England 339 64.9
10 Thames Valley England 955 63.8
11 Leicestershire England 414 62.9
12 North Yorkshire England 283 57.9
13 Greater Manchester England 957 57.5
14 Hertfordshire England 399 55.0
15 Cleveland England 174 54.1
16 Metropolitan England 2795 52.5
17 Derbyshire England 333 52.5
18 Essex England 581 51.5
19 Cumbria England 150 51.2
20 Dyfed-Powys Wales 150 50.2
21 Gwent Wales 170 49.8
22 Merseyside England 415 49.5
23 Lancashire England 434 49.0
24 Devon and Cornwall England 530 48.7
25 West Midlands England 822 48.2
26 Northumbria England 499 48.1
27 Humberside England 259 47.1
28 South Wales Wales 359 46.6
29 Kent England 529 46.0
30 Suffolk England 213 45.9
31 Belfast City Northern Ireland 80 44.8
32 North Wales Wales 179 44.5
33 Norfolk England 246 44.4
34 Avon and Somerset England 465 44.0
35 Hampshire England 537 43.6
36 Gloucestershire England 167 42.7
37 Sussex England 407 38.5
38 Lincolnshire England 167 36.6
39 Wiltshire England 162 36.5
40 Nottinghamshire England 278 33.7
41 Surrey England 241 32.5
42 Derry City & Strabane Northern Ireland 25 31.9
43 Dorset England 138 29.0
44 North Area Northern Ireland 95 26.0
45 South Area Northern Ireland 67 25.1
46 City of London England 53 20.7
N/A West Mercia England N/A N/A

 

The worst regions in the UK for employee theft

The worst region in the UK for theft by employees is Northamptonshire, with the highest proportion of thefts per employee in England, Wales, and Northern Ireland. Here are the top five worst regions in the UK for employee theft:

  1. Northamptonshire (0.11 thefts per employee)
  2. Warwickshire (0.09 thefts per employee)
  3. Cheshire (0.07 thefts per employee)
  4. Staffordshire (0.07 thefts per employee)
  5. Durham (0.07 thefts per employee)

 

Regions in the UK with the lowest proportion of employee thefts

The following are the five regions in England, Wales, and Northern Ireland with the lowest proportion of employee thefts compared to the number of employed adults in the region:

  1. City of London (0.02 thefts per employee)
  2. South Area, NI (0.03 thefts per employee)
  3. North Area, NI (0.03 thefts per employee)
  4. Dorset (0.03 thefts per employee)
  5. Derry City & Strabane (0.03 thefts per employee)

 

Employee theft at 125mph

We also spoke to the British Transport Police about this crime, and they had a number of reports of people stealing from employers on the rail network in England, Scotland, and Wales. In 2019, they reported 65 thefts by employees, with 32 in 2020, and 13 in 2021 (up to 1st October).

 

“More people were caught stealing from employers on the rail network (110) than in Belfast (80) or the City of London (53) from 2019-2021”

 

This crime could be employees who were caught in the act on the train, directly stealing from train operators, or it could be employers stealing assets using their laptops while on the move. The data does not specify these specific details, but comparisons show that in 2019, more people were caught stealing from their employer on the rail network (65) than in Belfast (42), or the City of London (25).

 

Caught stealing from work – what will happen?

We spoke to Jayne Harrison, Head of Employment Law at Richard Nelson LLP who discussed how employee theft may typically be dealt with, and what the consequences could be:

“It is likely that theft or other dishonesty would be referred to in an employer’s disciplinary procedure as gross misconduct. If an employee commits a criminal offence at work, then it is likely that the police would get involved as well. There is nothing to stop an employer contacting the police if there has been a theft by an employee.”

“Criminal proceedings are concerned with guilt beyond reasonable doubt, whereas an internal disciplinary process focuses on whether or not the conduct occurred. An employer does not have to show beyond reasonable doubt that it happened, just that it has conducted a reasonable investigation and concluded on reasonable grounds that the employee committed the theft. ”

“An employer is not obliged to give a reference to an employee but if they do so it must be an accurate and true reference. Therefore, an employer, if they do provide a reference, would want to give details about the reason for dismissal and any employee trying to find new employment may find that their prospective employer is made aware of the reasons why they were dismissed. As such, it may be more difficult for an employee to find new work if they have been dismissed for gross misconduct, although not impossible, as employers tend to view gross misconduct more seriously than other reasons for dismissal.”

 

Methodology

A total of 45 Freedom of Information requests were made in October 2021 to all police forces in England, Wales, Scotland, and Northern Ireland. The FOI request asked for the number of ‘Theft By An Employee’ offenses (Home Office Code 41) recorded by each police force for the years 2019, 2020, and 2021. The data for 2021 crimes collects information up until 1st October 2021 due to the date of the FOI request and should be considered accordingly.

Scotland did not supply the data as they do not record statistics for ‘Theft by an employee’, instead, they label such crimes as ‘thefts’ alongside other crimes, therefore it was not possible to retrieve such data. As of January 10th, West Mercia had opted not to send data to us, almost 3 months after the initial request was filed, therefore could not be included.

Northern Ireland policing regions are comprised of the following:

  • Belfast – Belfast City Centre, East Belfast, North Belfast, South Belfast and West Belfast
  • Derry City and Strabane
  • South – Newry, Mourne and Down, Armagh, Banbridge and Craigavon, Mid Ulster and Fermanagh and Omagh
  • North – Causeway Coast and Glens, Mid and East Antrim, Antrim and Newtownabbey, Ards and North Down, Lisburn and Castlereagh

 

We compared the number of crimes per region with the estimated working population of the area. We estimated employment figures by taking 79% (England and Wales’ working-age population proportion) of the police force area population, against the region’s employment percentage to estimate how many people could be reasonably classed as employees in the region.

To get the overall ranking of regions we analysed the total thefts from 2019-2021 against the number of employees in the region.

 

Sources