Antisocial behaviour can have a big financial impact on SMEs, so business interruption cover is vital, says David Nichols

The current debate surrounding the issue of anti-social behaviour is hard to ignore. The recent introduction of a policy in Hull, for instance, has seen crimes including theft, criminal or malicious damage, common assault and non-domestic burglary effectively downgraded as the police have insufficient manpower to pursue them.

Concerns regarding the potential repercussions of this are sure to resonate amongst the region's residential and business community.

Similarly, controversial proposals by the Home Office to merge a number of the nation's forces into a series of 'super-forces' are likely to meet opposition, with the heightened concern that less serious crimes like anti-social behaviour could slip further down the agenda.

It is because of developments like these that Zurich commissioned its own research into anti-social behaviour and what it means to SMEs and their working environment.

As a business insurer it is vital to be as engaged as possible with customer issues, so as to offer the right advice and the right insurance solutions.

The findings of the national research reveal some worrying trends. On average over 2.3 million (54%) of the UK's 4.2 million SMEs had encountered abusive and threatening behaviour while at work or on company business.

Incidents of intimidation and vandalism were the most commonplace (20% each) after use of bad language.

While occurrences of vandalism across the regions were relatively close in frequency the South West and West Midlands came off the worst with more than two in 10 enterprises affected.

London and the North emerged as hotspots for graffiti, affecting approximately two businesses in 10.

By business sector, catering fared the worst nationally with 68% of owners citing anti-social behaviour as having a detrimental affect on their businesses.

Retail was a close second at 63% followed by construction, light industry and office, all at just over 50%.

Vandalism blighted a minimum of two in 10 respondents in retail, catering and construction.

Outside the realms of premises damage, issues such as racism were flagged as concerns for one in 10 catering and retail businesses. Sexism also affected more than one catering business in 10 - notably higher than in any other sector.

Despite this, figures in respect of these issues on a national scale were still low affecting less than one small business in 10.

Drunken behaviour was also cited as having a detrimental influence on business productivity, the problem emerging next in the rankings after vandalism and intimidation. Twenty per cent of business owners said drunken behaviour and its aftermath had distracted them from servicing the day-to-day requirements of their enterprise.

It is telling that a third of enterprise owners questioned did not have business interruption cover. Add to this the one in five who were not aware if they had appropriate cover and the result is that less than half of those questioned did not recognise the value of this buffer.

Construction, for instance, had the lowest take-up of business interruption cover at 21% which, for an industry citing breaking and entering as a top concern, would seem incongruous.

A day or even a half-day away from a project in such a margin-driven industry can severely impact the construction company or contractor in question.

Whatever form it takes, anti-social behaviour can pose a real threat to the bottom-line of a business.

Business owners have a wide range of risks to consider and must assume more responsibility to protect themselves and their employees.

Business interruption resulting from malicious damage or employee litigation can severely impede business profitability and efficiency.

SMEs are the backbone of the economy, but chance can easily write them off. Brokers and insurers have an important role to play in helping business owners understand where their exposures lie and how they can best protect themselves from the expense of a claim.

It is key that we actively work with the sector to reduce vulnerability with respect to the consequences that can arise from a claim situation by delivering relevant products and making no bones about the importance of risk management.

In so doing we can help ensure both the sector itself and the livelihoods of those within it continue to thrive.