The £20 skeleton key behind thousands of UK tool thefts

A £20 skeleton key could be behind thousands of tool thefts and van break-ins across the UK, it’s been claimed.

As tool thefts across the country surge, tradespeople will be alarmed to find out that the skeleton key is readily available online.

Builders fall victim to skeleton key

A couple of builders from West Yorkshire set up the popular Facebook group ‘Van and Tool Theft Awareness’ having been victims of a skeleton key robbery.

Speaking to the BBC, Spencer Hargrave said: “They’ve entered the van with a key, which I’d never heard of until then.

“I rang the police and they said there had been a few in the area [who had] been done on the same morning,” he said.

Paul Butterfield, meanwhile, says that the police didn’t fully investigate the incident.

“They gave me a crime number and that was it really - forgotten about,” said Paul.

“They said ‘it’s a builder’s van, there’ll be no fingerprints, get yourself to work.’”

What is the skeleton key used for?

The intended users of skeleton keys are locksmiths - an essential part of their tool box.

The £20 skeleton key behind 1000s of tradesman tool thefts

Example photo taken from

However, many have argued that they should be less readily available to the general public - a sentiment shared by Steffan George from the Master Locksmith Association.

“These are legitimate locksmiths tools,” He said. “But they shouldn’t be available to everyone.

“We would welcome a restriction of their sale.”

Surge in tool theft

The revelation comes amid a worrying 30 per cent rise in tool theft, as revealed by Simply Business data.

Along with a rise in the number of thefts taking place, we also witnessed a 40 per cent growth in the average value of claims, suggesting thieves are taking more when they do break in.

It’s a worrying trend for tradespeople, and coupled with the rise in ‘peel and steal’ thefts - along with other new techniques for breaking into vans - the growing use of skeleton keys will be of major concern.

What can you do to prevent tool theft?

Tools are an important part of business for most tradespeople, and many would be left unable to work without them.

Avoiding skeleton key break-ins is tricky, as techniques such as parking with the van’s side doors against walls aren’t as effective.

However, it’s worth keeping the following in mind, as best practice:

  • Park your vehicle in a busy area when you can, and within sight of a CCTV camera for added protection.
  • Whenever possible, store your tools away from your van.
  • To help with recovery, register your tools on the Immobile register, and mark them so they’re easily identifiable.
  • Check your home or car insurance policy to see if they cover your tools, or consider specialist tools insurance.

Are you protecting your tools?

As the UK’s biggest business insurance provider, we know the importance of covering your tools. Why not take a look now and build a quick, tailored tool insurance quote?

Start your quote