A Comprehensive Guide to Locksmithing in the UK

By 20/03/2023 October 6th, 2023 No Comments

Locksmithing is an old profession… very old. In the UK, locksmithing has a rich and prominent history on the world stage, and it remains a crucial and essential service to this day. So long as property ownership is commonplace in Britain, there will always be a need for securing those properties and one of the best ways to do that is with good, robust locks.

What exactly is a locksmith and what do they do? What sorts of licenses, qualifications, and experience does a locksmith need to operate in the UK? What are some of their most common services and what tools do modern locksmiths use? This guide will endeavour to answer these questions to provide an overview of the locksmithing profession and industry in the UK.

Comprehensive guide to locksmithing

Comprehensive guide to locksmithing

What does a locksmith do?

Locksmith is a general term for an individual that performs tasks related to lock and key systems. This includes services such as key cutting and key duplication, lock installation, lock repair, and lock replacement for properties and vehicles.

Hundreds of years ago, locksmiths had generally been hired to secure properties and the profession was comparatively generalist. Since the adoption of the automobile and the digitisation of the modern world, including for modern lock and key systems, the industry has branched out into many specific disciplines.

Some different types of locksmiths include:

Emergency locksmith

Many (but not all) locksmiths in the UK provide emergency services to their customers. Losing a key or being a victim of a home or business burglary can be a stressful experience, and it can happen when least expected. For these sorts of reasons, locksmiths provide essential emergency services such as emergency lockouts for customers who have lost or misplaced their keys, as well as emergency lock repair and/or replacement services if a door or lock has been damaged during a burglary.

Residential locksmith

Residential locksmiths primarily serve customers with a wide range of services for homes, flats, or any other residential dwelling. These locksmiths may work with letting agents and property management companies on a contractual basis, repairing, rekeying, or changing locks on their properties, but they also work with private homeowners. Some may work with law enforcement, such as bailiffs or the police.

The key services that most residential locksmiths provide include:

  • Emergency property lockouts
  • Key cutting & duplication
  • Door locks
  • Deadbolts & night latches
  • UPVC window locks
  • Home safes
  • Burglar alarm & CCTV camera installation
  • Keyless remote entry systems

Commercial locksmith

Commercial locksmiths provide many of the same services as residential locksmiths and indeed most locksmiths in the UK provide both residential and commercial services. Regardless, it is still important that a qualified commercial locksmith be familiar with the various types of lock and key systems used in commercial properties, such as in shops, offices, and warehouses.

Some of the typical services that commercial locksmiths provide include:

  • Emergency property lockouts
  • Key cutting & duplication
  • Door locks
  • Deadbolts
  • Security gates, shutters, and grilles
  • Security system installation
  • CCTV camera installation
  • Master key systems
  • Fire doors & door openers/closers
  • Safe & cash vault installation & relocation
  • Electronic access control
  • Keyless remote entry systems

Automotive locksmith

As a subdiscipline of general locksmithing, automotive locksmithing is perhaps one of the most popular (and lucrative) in terms of employment. Auto locksmiths may or may not provide general locksmithing services, but the inverse tends to be less common. Generalist residential and commercial locksmiths do not always provide automotive locksmithing services, although many do.

Auto locksmithing requires quite a different set of skills, many of which require digital and electronic skills, as well as different technologies in order to perform their duties. Automotive locksmiths typically provide a wide range of services for vehicle owners, including key cutting and transponder key programming, ignition cylinder lock repairs, door and boot lock repairs, and emergency vehicle lockouts.

Other specialised subdisciplines

In addition to the three core areas of residential, commercial, and automotive locksmithing, some locksmiths have developed highly specific sets of skills and have branched out into particular niches to ply their trade.

These particular subdisciplines are somewhat rare but they provide essential services for their clients. Some examples include:

  • Forensic locksmiths: typically following legal proceedings (e.g. a bailiff is sent to evict a tenant from a property and the tenant may pose a threat of violence to the locksmith as they change locks) or during a criminal investigation, a forensic locksmith may be required to analyse the locks and keys of a property or vehicle.
  • Electronic security and access control: as locks continue to evolve and become more digital in nature, a skill gap is being widened whereby some locksmiths are choosing to specialise in providing services for electronic and digital locks that may be beyond the scope of expertise of a traditional locksmith. Moreover, many locksmiths specialise in electronic security and act as consultants for property owners and can install and maintain security systems and CCTV cameras.
  • Safe & vault locksmiths: while many locksmiths are able to assist with the installation and relocation of small to medium-sized safes and cash boxes used in most homes and businesses, high-security safes and vaults require highly specialised skills and tools. Indeed, bank vault doors are amongst the most secure locks anywhere in the world – and for good reason.

Locksmith qualifications and certifications in the UK

As of 2023, there is no licensing requirement to become a locksmith in the UK. Anyone can call themselves a locksmith, whether or not they are actually qualified or proficient. This poses a number of potential risks, as well as some positive opportunities.

In terms of risks, the complete lack of a licensing requirement within the locksmithing industry means that many bad actors can claim to be locksmiths and take advantage of naïve customers. Indeed the problem of rogue traders posing as locksmiths has become so prevalent in the UK – especially in large metro areas such as London – that the matter has been discussed at length in Commons and BBC Watchdog featured an exposé on rogue locksmiths.

In terms of opportunities, the lack of a licensing requirement means that locksmiths compete in a generally free market whereby those that tend to be honest, reputable, and competitive in terms of price and quality of services fare better than those that do not.

Since a license is not required to operate as a locksmith in the UK, many locksmiths willingly choose to acquire qualifications and accreditations in order to boost their reputation and to separate themselves from unskilled or unqualified locksmiths.

Many unofficial yet highly regarded organisations such as the Master Locksmiths Association (MLA) provide training courses, resources, and support for locksmiths in the UK in addition to being widely accepted as the governing body for the locksmithing industry.

Locksmithing tools & equipment

Every individual employed in the trades requires the right tools to get the job done well, and locksmiths are no different. The tools and equipment that a qualified locksmith needs may vary depending on their individual business, the services they provide, as well as their area of specialisation.

Some of the most common locksmithing tools and equipment include:

  • Lock picks: to unlock doors without a key, a locksmith requires lock picks such as rake picks, half-diamond picks, and hook picks.
  • Key cutting machinery: in order to duplicate and cut new keys, a locksmith requires a key cutting machine. These can be manual or automatic, or a hybrid of both. Automotive locksmiths require highly specialised (and sometimes various) key cutting machines as well as key codes for specific vehicle makes and models.
  • Plug spinners: used in conjunction with lock picks, plug spinners simply turn the plug of a locking mechanism in order to facilitate re-entry without the need to repeatedly pick the lock.
  • Hand tools & power tools: every locksmith should have a trusty toolbox filled with pliers, wire cutters, chisels, tension wrenches, screwdrivers, and more. In terms of power tools, locksmiths also need a good power drill to physically remove a lock, although this is often used as a last resort as will be explained further in this guide.
  • Broken key extractors: in order to extract pieces of a broken or snapped key from a locking mechanism, a locksmith requires elongated broken key extraction tools.
  • Stock of replacement parts and components: most locksmiths are equipped with a wide range of generic parts and components for lock and key replacement and repair, including blank key templates, hinges, lock cylinders, locking mechanisms, door handles, and more. For specific locks, locksmiths should also have the ability to reliably source parts and components from reputable suppliers on short notice.
  • A vehicle: locksmiths need to be mobile to serve clients at their location, which means having a reliable vehicle is essential. Most qualified locksmiths travel in a van equipped with the above tools and equipment to ensure they can get the job done quickly and efficiently.
  • Specific tools and equipment: for highly specialised locksmiths, specific tools may be required in addition to the above. Some examples include safe-cracking tools, vault scoping devices, or electronic tools to diagnose and repair modern digital and electronic lock systems.

One tool that is sometimes used by locksmiths is called a bump key. A bump key is essentially like a master key for many common locks and is created similarly to the proper key for the lock, although it makes it easy for the locksmith to gain entry without having to duplicate the original key right away. While helpful, bump keys are sometimes explicitly not used by locksmiths for ethical reasons. Bump keys, if used improperly or if acquired by criminals, can permit unauthorised entry to a property.

The state of the locksmithing industry in the UK

Locksmithing is and will most likely remain to be a highly in-demand service for the foreseeable future. The locksmithing industry is worth over £2 billion and there are an estimated 30,000 locksmiths operating in the UK, although it is difficult to tell exactly how many indeed operate as there is no central licensing scheme or registry.

The earning potential for a residential or commercial locksmith is relatively good, approximately at the national median salary of around £33,000 per annum for full-time employees in 2022, according to the Office for National Statistics.

Apprentice locksmiths with little to no experience may earn around £20,000 per annum whilst more experienced locksmiths with formal qualifications and their own independent business may earn well over £33,000. Indeed, the ability to become an independent contractor and to choose your own hours is a great benefit for many looking to escape from the daily grind. Moreover, the freedom to start your own locksmithing business can teach many ancillary skills beyond locksmithing itself, including all aspects of managing business operations.

In general, the demand for locksmiths will likely continue to remain high for a few critical reasons. Firstly, homeowners and business owners in the UK are increasingly looking for robust security features, including Insurance Approved locks, door locks, window locks, and more. Home and business security will continue to remain important so long as property crime exists.

Furthermore, technological innovations such as smart home systems have become feasible and affordable for the average homeowner. Some systems are highly complex and require careful installation, which can be facilitated with the assistance of a qualified locksmith.

One last point regarding the locksmithing industry is that there has been a prevalence of rogue traders operating in towns and cities across the UK. So long as locksmithing remains unregulated, scammers will likely continue to operate, preying on unsuspecting customers. It could be just as likely (or indeed, more likely) that regulating the industry would have no effect on their ability to operate, however. Instead, it is perhaps more useful for now to take note of how rogue trader locksmiths operate and how to avoid ever engaging with them in the future.

How to avoid being scammed by a rogue trader posing as a locksmith

As mentioned previously in this guide, BBC Watchdog featured a rogue locksmith in a programme. The reception was perhaps much stronger than anticipated, with many consumers expressing frustration at the state of affairs. Rogue traders operate all over the UK in various industries, including those that are regulated and require licenses, but they are particularly infamous in the locksmithing industry.

Although there are many ways in which they can successfully scam a victim, there is a pattern to how they typically behave. Firstly, they tend to advertise locksmithing services online, boasting of flat £59 call-out fees (or a similar price which is simply too low). Once they receive a call from a customer, they will typically dispatch one of their ‘locksmiths’ to the customer’s location to perform their ‘work.’

What happens next almost always follows the same pattern, which is called a bait-and-switch scam. The rogue trader will arrive at your property, typically in an unmarked private vehicle to meet with you. Then, the first thing they will often do is grab their power drill to extract the lock. They do this without inspecting the lock, asking any questions about the problem, and often with recklessness that can damage your door.

Once the lock has been removed, they will then tell you that you need to have the lock replaced. In fact, you do – but it didn’t necessarily need to be drilled out! Of course, all of this comes at a cost, and they’ll tell you that the £59 call-out fee is for normal lockouts, but YOU just happened to need your lock replaced and that will cost a few hundred quid more than anticipated. Every ‘service’ they provide will be marked up far higher than what a reputable locksmith would charge, leaving you with a hefty invoice and perhaps even a poorly installed replacement lock.

Here are a few tips to avoid being scammed by a rogue trader:

  • Avoid prices that look too good to be true. We should all be searching for good deals, but prices such as £59 are quite a bit below the industry standard and these prices are often a dead giveaway that it’s a rogue trader.
  • The locksmith uses a personal vehicle. Reputable locksmiths often travel in branded vans showcasing their logo, business name, and contact details. If the locksmith arrives in an unmarked, personal vehicle, it may be a sign that it’s a roge trader.
  • They are hesitant to discuss the problem you’re facing over the phone. Scammers don’t want to answer questions about their business over the phone and are usually unable to provide you with a quote and will instead insist on a flat fee.
  • There are no reviews or testimonials online to vouch for their reputation. Many small, independent locksmiths lack a big online presence and may not have many good reviews or testimonials online, but if they do, they’re usually more than happy to showcase them on their own website or to have a profile here on Rated Locksmiths. Scammers will not have any reviews online, or at least any good reviews.
  • The locksmith doesn’t ask any questions about your lock and immediately reaches for the power drill to extract it. In the majority of circumstances, a qualified and legitimate locksmith will be able to unlock a door without causing damage to the door or the lock. Drilling out the lock is usually only done as a last resort, and even then, only after all other options for non-destructive entry have been exhausted. Rogue traders want to drill out the lock so they can charge you a hefty sum for a new one.

How to find a locksmith near you in the UK

Nowadays with just about everything being searchable online, it’s not very challenging to find a locksmith near you in the UK. What you’ll normally find with a quick online search, however, is that most of the top results are big national franchises masquerading as local locksmiths. With these companies, you’ll often pay more and perhaps receive less-than-stellar service. Going local is often far more convenient and you’ll often get far more competitive prices, too.

Since many independent local locksmiths lack the marketing muscle of the big franchises, it may make it a little harder to find them online. If you happen to see one of their vans in a car park or near your home or business, you could snap a photo and remember to give them a call in the future, but this isn’t a very reliable way of finding reputable and qualified locksmiths near you.

Instead, one of the best ways to find quality residential and commercial locksmiths near you is to use the Rated Locksmiths network. Our platform puts you in direct contact with vetted and approved locksmiths, anywhere in the UK. In addition to being completely free and easy to use, there’s no need to sign up or login, and you’ll also be presented with genuine, trustworthy locksmiths and not rogue traders looking for their next victim.

The best local locksmiths

The locksmithing industry in the UK is dynamic and ever-evolving to keep up with trends in home and business security, to address burglaries and property crime, as well as the growing demand for qualified locksmiths to provide quality services for their valued customers.

If you’re in need of a residential or commercial locksmith for your home or business, use Rated Locksmiths today to connect with a local locksmith anywhere in the UK.