What is the most common crime in Britain?

A CCTV camera pointing at a thief using a crowbar to break into a window
Burglary is the sixth most common crime in Britain | Image: Shutterstock

Crime rates are a perpetual concern for many of us, but – beyond the ominous headlines – it can be hard to understand what’s really happening in our area. While there is all kinds of data being collected from across the UK, research by the Office for National Statistics provides a general indication of which types of crimes are most prevalent right now. Here are some of the main crime categories as laid out by the ONS, from least to most common.

10. Homicide

It may be reassuring to see that one of the most devastating crimes of all – homicide – is also the least common. For example, 666 homicides were recorded by police in England and Wales in the year ending September 2021 (the period covered by the latest ONS data at the time of writing). By contrast, all other crime categories were measured in the tens or hundreds of thousands, rather than in the hundreds.

9. Knife/Sharp Instrument Offences

While knives are, of course, used in many homicides, offences that don’t result in death have been grouped as a separate category. These include assaults with intent to cause serious harm, assaults that cause injury, and threats to kill.

Knife crime has become a highly politicised problem in urban centres like London. Debates over how it should be tackled form part of a wider, heated discourse about policing methods, stop and search tactics, and social and racial inequality. The good news is that police in three problem regions – London, the West Midlands, and Greater Manchester – have all recorded a recent fall in knife crime.

8. Robbery

Robbery refers specifically to theft through the use of force or the threat of force. This category includes muggings, which is a perennial concern of many ordinary people living in busy, anonymous urban environments. The good news is that robbery is relatively low down on the list of most common crimes, with a recent decrease being noted by the ONS. This may have been partly due to Covid lockdowns and fewer people being out in public areas.

7. Sexual offences

It’s notoriously difficult to accurately assess the true extent of sexual offences since so many victims don't report the crimes for several different reasons. According to the ONS, fewer than one in six women who are raped will report their ordeal to the police. If true statistics regarding rapes and sexual assaults were available, this category would likely place higher on this list.

6. Burglary

Many may have assumed that burglary would be right up there among the most common crimes in the country. After all, coming home to find your property has been broken into is an experience that lots of us know first-hand. However, the data tells us it’s less of an epidemic (relative to other crimes) than we might think.

5. Domestic abuse

As with sexual offences, true rates of domestic abuse aren’t fully known to researchers because so many victims don’t report what’s happening to them. Sadly, reported incidences of domestic abuse did increase in number during the height of the pandemic, with lockdowns likely exacerbating the crisis.

4. Crime against society

This rather peculiar-sounding category encompasses a wide range of offences. These include crimes relating to drugs, the possession of certain weapons, and – by far the biggest slice of this nefarious pie – public order offences. Examples of the latter are drunk and disorderly behaviour, inciting racial hatred, and affray. All in all, the nasty stuff that can sometimes blight communities across Britain.

3. Theft

Even with burglary removed and treated as a separate category, theft is a truly sizeable issue. That makes it all the more surprising that it doesn’t have the dubious honour of being the most common crime in the country. The category includes vehicle theft, bike theft, shoplifting, and thefts from individuals without the use of force.

2. Computer misuse

A perhaps unexpected entry right at the top of the list is computer misuse. The number of reported crimes has soared in recent times, much of it related to hacking offences which have seen large-scale data breaches of victims’ email and social media accounts. On the plus side, the ONS reports that more than half of victims of computer misuse aren’t actually impacted by the breaches. That said, the sheer jump in numbers over the past few years is a cause for concern.

1. Fraud

And so to the number one spot. By some considerable margin, the most common crime – according to the most recent data – is fraud. As with computer misuse statistics, fraud cases have risen precipitously. A particular area of concern is advance fee fraud. This is where victims are tricked into making upfront payments for fictitious goods and services; some have reported transferring money to receive postal deliveries that never come, for example.

Financial investment scams have also been a big problem, while a spike in remote banking fraud has reflected the rise in people using the internet and mobile banking services. The upshot? Be more careful than ever.