Students warned to stay secure

Copied keys and substandard locks could be putting over 400,000 British students at risk of burglary, assault, fraud and worse still, experts warn this Freshers week.

Copied keys and substandard locks could be putting over 400,000 British students at risk of burglary, assault, fraud and worse still, experts warn this Freshers' week.

The Master Locksmiths Association (MLA) is calling on universities and landlords in the South West to consider if the type of locks fitted in student halls of residents and flats meet industry standards and if spare keys left in the hand of previous occupants are putting students at risk.

Figures from the Home Office reveal that students are one of the highest at-risk groups of crime with one in three students becoming a victim of criminal activity each year. Furthermore, statistics also report that over a third (36 per cent) of students live in fear of crime.

Dr Steffan George, development director from the MLA warns: "While South West universities and police forces work hard to raise awareness of personal security among students we are concerned that locks to rooms and flats are often not even considered.

"The presumption is that once someone has returned a key it is the only copy, however this is sadly not always the case and high student turnover could mean excess copies have been made and used by former residents, employees, contractors and even rogue locksmiths to the detriment of new residents.

"We would encourage private landlords and universities to review the security of their accommodation and call on students and parents to ask questions about standards of locks, when they were last replaced and how the copying of keys is controlled.

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"By installing quality locks with patented keys which can't easily be copied and by carrying out regular key checks at the end of each academic year, landlords would be acting in a responsible manner and rightfully positioning the safety of tenants at the top of their agenda."

Backing the MLA campaign National Union of Students (NUS) vice president for welfare, Ben Whittaker, said: "Students are the most likely victims of burglary in the UK, which is why we are pleased to support the MLA campaign. Students should look at their accommodation and ensure that it is safe, with adequate locks on doors and windows. As the main cause of burglary against students is walk-in theft, we would advise students to be particularly vigilant in locking up their flats and houses securely."

Endsleigh has been the UK's leading student insurance provider for over 40 years and is the only insurance provider approved by the NUS.

Rhiannon Harris, Endsleigh spokesperson, said: "Although Endsleigh's student contents policies offer cover for walk-in theft many other insurance providers do not offer such reassurance. Students should make sure that the insurance they choose is specifically tailored to their lifestyle so that they do not find themselves caught short by theft.

"In addition, second and third year students living in shared accommodation should carefully select their insurance as their accommodation is often perceived to be less secure by thieves and therefore is at greater risk."

The MLA was established over 50 years ago to set and promote standards of conduct, practice and materials within locksmithing. The organisations' student campaign is aimed at increasing awareness of lock and key safety and encouraging landlords and universities to use MLA licensed locksmiths to upgrade systems where necessary.

The MLA has recently been granted the right to carry out standard Criminal Records Bureau (CRB) checks into the backgrounds of its members and would be locksmiths applying for MLA training or licences.

Dr George added: "We estimate that approximately 60 per cent of people currently working as locksmiths in the UK are unlicensed - that's over 6,500 unregulated individuals with access to people's homes, businesses, hospitals and schools.

"While we do not think CRB checks should be the norm, for all specialist trades people, we do believe that where people have unique skills and in effect, unlimited access, as in the case of locksmiths, then background checks are essential.

"The MLA is aware of at least one case where a convicted murderer approached us to become a licensed locksmith, which is obviously a worrying thought and raises questions as to how many others with potentially threatening backgrounds could be working in the field.

"By being able to carry out CRB checks we are able to make sure our members have suitable backgrounds to take on this position of trust. Customers also have increased confidence that by selecting an MLA licensed locksmith they are using a regulated service provider.