NFU Mutual, the UK’s largest rural insurer, is urging rural homeowners to protect their heating oil supply as the UK prepares itself for yet another long, cold winter.
When the insurer conducted its annual Rural Crime Survey earlier this year, fuel was third on the list of top ten items most commonly stolen from the countryside and, with another cold winter forecast, NFU Mutual is concerned that fuel theft will escalate as heating oil and firewood become a lucrative commodity for thieves.
In February 2013, the cost of fuel theft in rural areas more than doubled compared to the same period in 2012 and the problem is one which has troubled rural homeowners for a number of years: in 2010, as temperatures dropped, the cost of the oil shot-up from 41 pence per litre in September to 71 pence per litre in December – an increase of over 70%. Evidence suggests that any increase is usually followed by a rise in the theft of domestic heating oil as thieves cashed-in on supplies of ‘liquid-gold’.
Currently, the average cost per litre of domestic kerosene is around 58p per litre and, with the average amount of oil used by the typical household ranging between 2,000 and 2,500 litres, it represents a significant outlay, particularly as heating oil usually has to be paid for up-front.
According to a report by the Office of Fair Trading, around four million homes in Great Britain - most of which are located in rural areas- are not connected to the mains gas grid and therefore reliant on domestic heating oil, LPG or solid fuel to help them heat their homes.
The UK average cost of heating a typical three bedroom house is around 50% higher with heating oil and 100% higher with LPG than with mains gas but there is limited opportunity for such consumers to switch fuel source.
For many households which are not connected to the main gas grid, solid fuel such as coal or wood, can be an efficient way to heat rooms and, more complex systems such as biomass systems can be connected to a central heating and hot water system.
In contrast to solid fuels (such as coal), the demand for wood is on an upwards trend in the UK and rural thieves have been quick to spot this trend and have been helping themselves to wooden gates and even whole trees from rural areas.
Commenting on the issue, Nicki Whittaker, a Rural Affairs Specialist at NFU Mutual, said: “Rural homes with no access to a mains gas supply have no choice but to struggle with high fuel prices and the risk of having their heating oil or even the contents of their log store stolen.
“Much has been said in recent months about increases in gas and electricity prices, but for homes in rural areas that are not connected to the mains gas grid, the cost of heating a property can be considerably higher and subject to high delivery prices and market fluctuations.”
There are many ways homeowners can help limit the risk of becoming a victim of fuel theft:
Deter thieves from entering your property by installing and using lockable gates and by maintaining boundaries and perimeter fencing
Plant shrubs or install fences to hide exposed domestic heating oil tanks from the eyes of opportunist thieves cruising the neighbourhood
Consider fitting a locking cap to your tank
Check tank oil levels regularly
Where possible install automatic movement sensor security lighting to cover your tank and the immediate surrounding area
Note suspicious vehicles’ registration numbers and report them to the police
If tanks are located in outbuildings or sheds, ensure these are kept locked
Be aware that if thieves have already stolen fuel from your tank they may return to steal any replacement oil you order
Be especially vigilant following a recent delivery of oil
Consider fitting an alarm system which notifies you if fuel is being drained from the tank
Check your insurance policy covers you for fuel theft and cleaning-up any oil spillage.”