Do You Need a License to Become a Locksmith in the UK?

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

Are you looking for a good, honest job in the UK? Do you want a job that is relatively safe for the foreseeable future with a reasonable wage and the ability to start your own business and work as an independent contractor? Locksmithing may be just right for you.

If you’re considering getting into the industry, however, there are a lot of details you’ll need to work out, including training and getting the right qualifications, earning a positive reputation amongst your colleagues and your customers, and more. But what about licenses?

It’s fairly well known internationally – and often, comedically – that you need a license to do a lot of things in the UK, e.g. the infamous BBC TV license. Do you need a license to become a locksmith in the UK?

Licensed locksmith

Licensed locksmith

Do locksmiths in the UK need a license to operate?

Locksmiths in the UK do not need a license to operate. The industry is currently unregulated, which carries a number of advantages and disadvantages for both locksmiths and for consumers.

Although locksmithing is not regulated in the UK as it is in many other countries such as Germany or in many Canadian provinces or in Australian states or territories, it is nevertheless important for locksmiths in the UK to acquire training, certifications, and experience to ensure that they are providing the best services possible for consumers.

Rogue traders & scammers in the UK

The unregulated locksmithing industry in the UK has attracted quite a bit of attention in the past few years. On a BBC Watchdog ‘Rogue Traders programme, the team investigated a shady locksmith in London called AM Locksmiths. They (and perhaps the audience) were surprised to learn that there was absolutely no regulation of the industry.

As it turns out, these particular so-called locksmiths (and certainly many others) would quote £59 over the phone for emergency domestic lockouts and would show up in unmarked private vehicles, drill a hole through the lock, and charge them a massive fee for drilling, replacement, and so on. One lad on the show paid £319 or so out of pocket!

Reception to the Rogue Traders programme

It seems that this particular episode of Rogue Traders sparked a lot of enquiries about locksmithing in the UK. Many commenters were quick to point out how common this practise indeed is, with many saying that the overwhelming feedback from the programme led to regulation within the industry.

Unfortunately, instances such as this have become somewhat common in the UK and it may be giving members of the public a poor perception of the locksmithing industry. A case could be made that if licensing for locksmiths were mandatory in the UK, these rogue traders would be put out of business. On the other hand, mandatory licensing may have no effect as these scammers may simply prey on consumers that aren’t aware of locksmithing requirements.

Response by the public and by Members of Parliament

The contagion of rogue traders operating in the UK and their exposure on BBC Watchdog have certainly stirred heated discussion. Indeed, the public reception was so strong to this particular episode that it called into question whether or not the industry should be regulated in order to deal with these scammers.

The debate about whether or not locksmiths should be licensed in the UK became not only a matter of public discussion but it was also argued in Commons on 22 September 2021 that locksmiths ought to be regulated specifically to deal with rogue traders.

Quoting MP Mark Pawsey for Rugby:

“Let me say in support of the need for regulation that the Master Locksmiths Association hears on a near daily basis from consumers across the country who have unknowingly employed an unaccredited locksmith. Some may have been severely overcharged, in the way that my right hon. Friend the Member for East Yorkshire (Sir Greg Knight) described. Some may have received a very poor standard of work, often requiring remedial work from an MLA member. In the most extreme cases, rogue locksmiths retain keys to locks they have installed and either use them or pass them on to others to commit burglaries at a later date.”

Requirements to operate as a locksmith in the UK

Since there is no requirement for locksmiths in the UK to possess a license, it may seem that just about anyone can call themselves a locksmith and begin operating right away. Technically, this is true but it is a far cry from being practical or ideal.

Instead, locksmiths that operate in the UK can (and should) seek to gain qualifications and accreditations in their industry which can give them a greater perception of trust, quality, and expertise within the industry. Moreover, the skills and knowledge required to become a proficient locksmith are quite high, creating a somewhat high entry barrier to the industry.

Formal & informal locksmithing qualifications in the UK

What are some of the formal and informal locksmithing qualifications that can be obtained in the UK? There are quite a few, varying in terms of quality, cost, and time spent. Most genuine and reputable locksmiths in the UK possess at least one professional accreditation from a well-recognised body, but some older locksmiths may simply rely on their decades of experience.

When it comes to locksmithing qualifications, there are a few governing bodies that are recognised as industry standards, even if they are not absolutely mandatory to operate as a locksmith.

Below are three of the main routes to becoming a qualified locksmith in the UK. Note that an apprentice locksmith may undertake training and courses from a combination of the below and/or come with prior experience in a tangibly related industry such as carpentry or tool and die making, for example.

Training courses from locksmithing schools

There are many trade schools in the UK that offer training courses in locksmithing. Some are reputable, some are not. It is not our place to rank these schools, one by one, but instead suffice to say that one should avoid taking a locksmithing training course that requires you to purchase their tools and to perhaps avoid any school that claims to offer tailored awards in locksmithing, as these latter schools may be simply paying an organisation to issue so-called qualifications. For example, “City and Guilds Locksmith Awards” are not industry-recognised qualifications.

Most courses, such as those offered by the UK Locksmiths Association, vary from around 2-5 days in duration and should provide apprentices with the required knowledge to perform the most common locksmithing tasks. Following successful completion of the course, apprentices are given a certificate that may help them gain trust and credibility as a locksmith.

This may seem like a short period to become a locksmith, but it is important to note that this is very much a hands-on career choice. Most key and lock systems for homes and businesses are generally quite uniform, so apprentices that know how to cut Chubb and Yale keys, and how to pick, fit, repair, and/or replace a mortice lock or UPVC Euro cylinder door lock will be able to confidently respond to the vast majority of call-outs.

These courses should offer all of the above knowledge and hands-on training. Specific courses may also be offered on specific niches within the locksmithing industry such as automotive locksmithing, which is quite different from residential and commercial locksmithing.

OfQual Diploma and certifications

Following on the debate in Commons about locksmith licensing and after being highlighted by BBC Watchdog, many professional locksmiths and industry experts held meetings to determine whether or not a standard would be required; one that could be mutually agreed upon as a recognised industry standard.

A National Standard was indeed created following these events, and this now comes in the form of professional vocational training from an industry-recognised course offered by Train Locksmiths in Manchester. This school was deemed to be highly reputable and was entrusted to deliver ordinary locksmith training as well as two brand new OfQual Diplomas.

The OfQual certifications are:

These qualifications are much more time-consuming to obtain, taking between 6-12 months to complete. Still, they are not required in order to operate as a locksmith, but they are highly regarded as the gold standard for commercial and automotive locksmithing qualifications in the UK, respectively.

There is therefore a very strong incentive for all new, apprentice locksmiths to obtain one of these OfQual certifications if they intend to operate within these sectors of the locksmithing industry. Older, experienced locksmiths have also been pressured to get qualified.

This has caused a little controversy, with some professional locksmiths seeing this as a push towards regulating the industry, something they don’t want. Others see it as a step in the right direction and do support it.

Master Locksmiths Association training & qualifications

Of all the organisations and associations related to locksmithing in the UK, the Master Locksmiths Association (MLA) is perhaps the most well-known. The MLA is widely regarded as the unofficial main governing body of the locksmithing industry in the UK.

In addition to hosting an informative and educational museum of locks and keys from the present to the past (including ancient Egypt), the MLA offers many resources for locksmiths and consumers alike and holds its members in high regard. The MLA seal of approval is often seen as being the gold standard for locksmithing work in the UK.

While the MLA itself offers paid courses and accreditation at its school in Rugby, Warwickshire, it also claims to reward the most highly recognised locksmith exam in the UK, the MLA exam (formerly the BLI). This exam is not tied to a course, but instead it is a true test of competency in locksmithing and as such signals to consumers that the locksmith is indeed qualified and trustworthy.

Other requirements

Although a license is not required to operate as a locksmith in the UK, there are some requirements that are in place for more practical reasons.

Some of these requirements include:

  • DBS checks;
  • Right to work in the UK;
  • Liability insurance;
  • Driving license.

Why having qualifications and locksmith training matters

It should be apparent by now why locksmithing qualifications and training matter, especially with so many rogue traders scamming unsuspecting homeowners and business owners in the UK.

Locksmith qualifications signal to consumers that the locksmith has undergone professional training, ideally at a widely-recognised school teaching industry-approved knowledge and techniques on key cutting, lock repair, lock replacement, and more.

From the perspective of a locksmith in the UK, having some sort of qualification in addition to experience sets you apart from the competition and can boost your reputation and business revenue as a consequence.

Is locksmith licensing good for consumers?

As of 2023, there is no requirement to possess a license to operate as a locksmith in the UK. There are a number of advantages and disadvantages for consumers to consider, including:

  • No guarantee that your locksmith is genuine and trustworthy;
  • The prevalence of rogue traders and scammers posing as locksmiths;
  • No regulation means that prices are far more elastic, which means you could be spending less than if licensing were required;
  • Greater availability of locksmiths, which can further keep prices competitive.

The challenges of locksmith licensing in the UK

One point to consider is that, as of 2023, an unregulated industry essentially promotes a free market which will invariably include some bad actors. As a consumer, it is very important to do your due diligence and to ensure that you are indeed dealing with a legitimate and qualified locksmith rather than a rogue trader.

It may just be better to let sleeping dogs lie, as the saying goes, and to empower consumers to be more conscious of choosing the right locksmith for their needs by educating them on the common tactics used by rogue traders in the UK.

How to choose a qualified and trustworthy locksmith near you

Finding a locksmith for your home or business in the UK is not necessarily difficult as there are many national franchises operating in towns and cities all across the UK. Quite often, however, it’s far more convenient and affordable to hire a locksmith near you that is local and operating independently. This, of course, opens up the possibility that you may be dealing with a scammer.

Consequently, it is extremely important to only choose vetted and approved locksmiths that operate legally and do not engage in scams or shady business practises. To find nearby residential and commercial locksmiths in your town or city, Rated Locksmiths makes the process quick and easy. Moreover, you’ll only be working with genuine, trustworthy locksmiths that have been vetted and approved on the basis of quality and reputation.

Best locksmiths in the UK

With no need to get a license to operate as a locksmith in the UK, it’s highly advised to only choose qualified and experienced local locksmiths. Rated Locksmiths makes that whole process simple and straightforward.