Insurers are paying out more than £1 million a week to the victims of metal theft, the industry's association said today.
There are now 1,000 metal thefts per week, and the knock-on effect of the disruption caused has been estimated to cost the economy £770 million a year.
The Association of British Insurers will debate the issue at a conference involving insurers, the Government and British Transport Police tomorrow.
The voice of the insurance industry said that in the past five years incidents had doubled to 1,000 per week, and 300 tonnes of metal was stolen per week, which is the equivalent of 300 cars.
The ABI said insurers were paying out more than £1 million every week to customers who have had metal stolen.
Nick Starling, the ABI's director of general insurance, said: "Metal thieves are putting lives at risk, causing expensive damage and massive disruption.
"From delayed train journeys to loss of telephone and internet connections, to damaged churches, most people are affected by this crime.
"We support Government action to make it harder to sell on stolen metal and tougher penalties for offenders.
"Insurers have a key role to play, not only compensating those insured, but in helping their customers take sensible security measures to reduce this ever-present threat.
"This is why we are working with the Government to crack down on metal thefts".
The problem has got so bad that drain covers in Birmingham have been forensically marked after 950 were stolen in the last six months of 2011.
A gas explosion which wrecked a row of houses in West Yorkshire has been linked to the theft of copper piping.
A village near Chester suffered a communications blackout affecting homes, schools and the doctor's surgery after thieves stole underground telecom cables.