CamdenNewJournal

The independent London newspaper

Fire keys will give ‘every Tom, Dick and Harry’ access to our homes

Resident raises the alarm after delivery man is found with emergency key

12 April, 2017 — By William McLennan

Camden Council said the fire keys are ‘absolutely vital’

A “FIRE key” designed to allow emergency access to council homes has become a security risk after being handed out to “every Tom, Dick and Harry,” it has been claimed.

Swiss Cottage resident Elaine Chambers raised the alarm with the Town Hall after neighbours found a delivery man was able to access their communal hallway using the key. Many public buildings are installed with locks that can be overridden by a “fire key” – allowing access to emergency services without the need to break down doors, saving both time and money. But Ms Chambers believes they are not suitable for council “street properties”, which – as opposed to purpose-built blocks of flats – are particularly at risk, she said.

The converted terrace homes do not typically have secure post boxes for each flat, she said. “Post remains in the communal hallways of these converted Victorian properties and it’s a bit like being in a house,” she said. “Although each of the flat doors have as many locks as people care to put on them, all the post and parcels land behind the street door. “With every Tom, Dick and Harry and every workman having these keys they can just come in without notice.”

She said: “If there’s a nice parcel in the hallway and it’s quite clearly a nice pair of trainers. Somebody might have come and lifted that and we wouldn’t even know.” She said the council should introduce a different emergency system for street properties and, at the least, take meticulous records of which workmen have been provided with the keys and let residents know in advance when they will be letting themselves in. She said: “Our neighbours were quite fraught when they left their home and found these men already in the hallway. They need to let us know so that they don’t cause alarm.”

A Camden Council spokesperson said: “Council blocks across London and beyond use this key system, which is primarily in place for residents’ safety. These keys are absolutely vital for the fire service to access the block in an emergency, where every second counts and a delay in accessing the building could make the difference between life and death. They also enable council workers to carry out maintenance and cleaning that our tenants and leaseholders have paid for. We are here to help our tenants and leaseholders if they have security concerns and assess whether further security measures are necessary in their particular circumstances.”

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