Archived News - Alarm
Eaton Bray campaigner Alan Woolridge said he feels like a celebrity as his battle against the council's alarm notification strategy gains momentum.
He has been featured on television and radio programmes in the past week, and says people have congratulated him in the streets for making a stand.
But chiefs at South Beds District Council say they cannot work out why the policy has created such a fuss.
As reported previously, South Beds is the first district to have an alarm notification area introduced.
All burglar alarm owners face £80 on-the-spot fines if they do not hand over details of their keyholders, and this could rise to up to £1,000 if the council takes them to court.
It was introduced so that if an alarm sounds, council officers could contact keyholders to silence it.
Councillor David McVicar, who has special responsibility for the environment, said: "It's an issue that shouldn't have caused all the problems it has.
"It was a thing that was put into place to help, and it's ended up being a stick with which we're being beaten."
He said councillors chose to implement government legislation to combat the nuisance that alarms can cause.
On average, problems arise once a fortnight, and Mr McVicar said: "It's a huge number when people are being driven mad."
And he continued: 'At one stage it was down to the police to hold a voluntary database but that fell into disrepair. People would phone us up and say: 'There's an alarm going off'.
If that happened, Peter Jones, corporate service manager, said council officers had to obtain a warrant, a locksmith, a police officer and an alarm engineer to gain access to the home.
Mr Jones said that with all costs being transferred to the householder, it could work out very expensively. And he added that keyholder details have already been used to get alarms turned off quickly.
"Something that would have taken hours of annoyance was dealt with by one phone call," he stated.
A lot of the controversy has been about the security of the information the council collects.
Mr Woolridge has said he is prepared to submit mobile phone numbers for his keyholders, but not names and addresses.
But Mr Jones said: "The advantage of having a name and address and a phone number for the keyholder is we've got a better chance of getting hold of them."
He added that under the government legislation in place, addresses have to be collected.
Critics have said that the keyholder database could be a massive resource for criminals if it fell into the wrong hands.
In response, Mr McVicar said that the council has never had a problem with data being compromised in the past.
He stated: "No security is 100 per cent, but as far as this council is concerned, we've never lost a piece of data."
He said that the council already has huge databases containing enormous amounts of data about people living in South Beds, from benefits information to council tax and the electoral roll.
All officers with access to the keyholder database are CRB checked, and Mr McVicar said: "I would never question the integrity of our officers."
An online petition about the measure was loaded by Mr Woolridge onto the 10 Downing Street website. As the Gazette went to press more than 70 householders had signed it.
Source: Dunstable Gazette, 22 Aug 2007
An online petition has been launched to protest about the district council's controversial alarm notification policy.
Burglar alarm owners are now required to pass details of their keyholders to South Beds District Council, or face fines of up to £1,000.
The council claims it will help to silence loud alarms quickly, and there are already cases where keyholder information has been used to cut short the misery that constantly sounding alarms can cause.
But as reported by the Gazette last week, the measure has sparked concerns about security.
Eaton Bray protestor Alan Woolridge has vowed to battle against the order, and this week he has launched a petition on Gordon Brown's 10 Downing Street website calling for a rethink.
South Beds is the first area to bring in the measure using legislation from the Clean Neighbourhoods and Environment Act 2005, but a number of local authorities are keeping a close eye on the initiative.
Mr Woolridge is calling on the government to have another look at the legislation before other authorities follow suit.
His petition reads: "Homeowners in South Beds whose property has a burglar alarm are being legally forced to pass details of a keyholder (name; address; phone number) to the local authority.
"Other councils will follow. This protest is about the creation of databases that if allowed to continue will identify properties that have, and by exception, do not have burglar alarms.
"Front door key security is personal and the whereabouts of any `emergency' keys are confidential too."
The petition urges householders not to submit keyholder information, or to withdraw it if they have already handed it over.
When the alarm notification area was announced last year, it prompted a number of letters to this newspaper voicing concerns.
Enforcement of the policy started this month, and since we reported it the Gazette has received many letters and phone calls on the subject.
This week one correspondent wrote: "Having worked with IT systems since the late 1960s I know it's inevitable that information on the keyholder register will get out, no matter that the council is `fierce' with its data protection duties to prevent data being misused.
"Information will get out either because someone breaks in, or because a loophole has inadvertently been left in the system, or because a South Beds District Council employee is suborned into revealing information from the database."
- The petition can be found at http://petitions.pm.gov.uk/ALARMING
- The website claims that whenever a serious petition collects 200 or more signatures, officials at Downing Street will ensure a response is given to the issues raised.
Source: Dave Burke, Dunstable Gazette, 15 August 2007
An Eaton Bray home owner has vowed to continue his battle with the district council over its alarm notification policy, and he is leading calls for a rethink.
Alan Woolridge, who has been one of South Beds District Council's most vocal critics since the measure was announced, said he was still unhappy about handing over crucial details about his keyholders.
He could potentially face an £80 on the spot fine, which would rise to £1,000 if it's not paid within 14 days.
As reported by the Gazette last week, enforcement of the council's controversial alarm notification area has started this month.
All burglar alarm owners with an alarm now have to pass contact details for their keyholders to the district council or face a fine.
The policy was introduced to cut down on the misery that constantly sounding alarms can cause, as it would give council officers a way to contact keyholders and get the alarms turned off.
Members of the council's envirocrime unit will be out and about this month, and if they spot an alarm that isn't registered they will give the owner seven days to comply.
But Mr Woolridge is worried that the council wants addresses for the people with keys to his home, and not just phone numbers.
He said yesterday: "The security of my front door key is mine and nobody else's, and I'm not prepared to say where it is."
And he added: "I don't object in principle to this initiative but I do object strongly to giving a keyholder's name and address.
"I have already provided four mobile telephone numbers including my own and thereby given far more options to resolve any problem that may occur."
The measure has also prompted concerns that it could become a handy resource for criminals if security is breached.
Mr Woolridge said that if the database got into the open, people without burglar alarms and people with dummy boxes would be easy to identify.
He said: "The people who are not apparently concerned by this are the people who don't have alarms.
"But the people who don't have alarms are the people who would be indirectly identified if this database got into the open.
"The people who have dummy boxes and who don't have alarms would be identified as having unsecured properties."
He has raised the matter with South West Beds MP Andrew Selous, who has been in touch with the Department for the Environment, Food and Rural Affairs (DEFRA).
But the government has said it cannot step in over the dispute.
A letter from former environment minister Ben Bradshaw to Mr Selous dated June 26 said that under the Clean Neighbourhoods and Environment Act 2005, local authorities are at liberty to collect keyholder details.
It continued: "Databases which contain details of nominated keyholders are maintained in accordance with the Data Protection Act 1998. Local authorities have the power to retain keyholder details for audible intruder alarms as the people responsible for dealing with noise and with the power to deactivate intruder alarms.
"As such, Defra are not in the position to intervene in a situation between the local authority, who are responsible for enforcing the fine if they see fit, and the resident."
South Beds is the first authority in the UK to introduce the measure.
Yesterday a council spokesman said keyholders' addresses are taken to ensure that they live close enough to respond if an alarm goes off.
He added that the council is `fierce' with its Data Protection duties to prevent data being misused.
Source: Dave Burke, Dunstable Gazette, 8 August 2007
Council officers will today start touring the district on the lookout for unregistered burglar alarms - with fines of up to £1,000 on the cards.
Anyone who has an alarm fitted but hasn't told South Beds District Council who their keyholders are will soon face hefty fines as part of a controversial alarm notification policy.
The council claims the measure will make it easier to silence endlessly sounding alarms, but critics have dubbed it an invasion of privacy.
Under the scheme council envirocrime officers will have contact details for keyholders at their fingertips, so that if an alarm sounds it can be switched off quickly.
From today members of the envirocrime unit will be keeping an eye out for alarm boxes on the outside of homes.
If they spot an alarm that isn't registered, they will contact the owner giving them seven days to hand over contact details for their keyholders.
If this isn't done, owners will face an £80 on-the-spot fine, which will rise to £1,000 if it's not paid within two weeks.
When plans were unveiled for the new alarm notification area last year, this newspaper was swamped with letters from readers worried about the impact it would have.
One correspondent dubbed it a "sledgehammer to crack a nut", and Eaton Bray campaigner Alan Woolridge mounted a petition calling on alarm owners to withhold the information.
His petition read: "For security reasons the only persons who should know of the arrangement are the property owner and the keyholder.
"To have such details on the database, regardless of the fact that data will be maintained in accordance with the Data Protection Act 1998, does nothing to inspire confidence."
But yesterday a council spokeswoman announced that 4,578 alarms have been registered in South Beds.
Councillor David McVicar, portfolio holder for the environment, said: "This service means that our neighbours no longer have to endure the possibility of constant noise of alarms while we are on holiday or away.
"It is a simple matter to register your alarm, giving yourself and your neighbours peace of mind."
Source: Dave Burke, Dunstable Gazette, 1 August 2007
It's the second time that the alarm notification area policy - which gives the council the right to fine alarm owners if they don't hand over details about their keyholders - has been put back.
A South Beds District Council spokeswoman announced that, although the policy is being viewed as a success, at council HQ more time is needed to bring it in.
Problems making householders aware of the policy and difficulties alarm holders have had finding someone to act as a keyholder have been cited as reasons for the delay.
The burglar alarm policy has been the cause of widespread discontent since the Gazette first reported that it was being introduced last year. Critics have panned the new measure, accusing the council of invading their privacy and raising concerns that the information could become a valuable resource for criminals.
Eaton Bray campaigner Alan Woolridge mounted a petition in December and publicly called on householders to refuse to hand over the information.
But the district council confirmed that, despite these reservations, 3,500 people living in South Beds have passed on contact details for the people they trust with their keys.
"We're thrilled with the response," said the council spokeswoman.The district council's envirocrime unit claims that having keyholder details on record will make it easier to silence ringing alarms quickly and cut down on the misery and noise pollution they can cause.
When the alarm notification area was first announced, people in South Beds were told that after Christmas Eve they could face a fixed fine of £80, and failure to pay within 14 days would lead to a hefty £1,000 penalty.
This was later put back until February, and now enforcement of the fines has been postponed again.
Source: Dave Burke, Dunstable Gazette, 28 February 2007
Since the Gazette reported that the scheme - which means burglar alarm owners have to hand over contact details for their keyholders or face a fine - was being introduced, readers have voiced concerns about the impact that disclosing the information will have on their cover.
The measure was introduced to cut down on endlessly ringing alarms and ensure that if a home alarm goes off it can be shut down quickly. South Beds District Council's Envirocrime Unit, which is overseeing the policy, has claimed a victory this week after it used keyholder contact details to quickly silence an alarm in Kensworth.
But Gazette reader Malcolm Dodd said: "Before submitting confidential details regarding the security of one's home to a third party, householders should consult their insurance company.
"They may have a very different view of the information requested becoming available to a third party, let alone recorded on a central database.
"Are South Beds District Council, with their official responsibility for this new regulation, prepared to accept liability resulting from possible non-compliance of the terms of the householder's insurance policy?"
The council has been quick to say that Mr Dodd's concerns are unfounded.
A spokeswoman for South Beds District Council said: "We did check with insurance companies before we introduced the scheme and it won't affect home insurance cover."
And one of the country's largest insurers has backed them.
A spokeswoman for Norwich Union said the company had no concerns about disclosing information to the council, and said the only real worry would be keyholders not re-setting alarms when they leave.
She said: "There's no insurance issue on disclosure grounds, however we would be concerned if somebody came round when an alarm was sounding and disabled it permanently"
She also said that if the information was abused and keyholders were targeted by thieves, it would not affect insurance claims.
"We will pay claims without any forcible entry," she said.
As reported over the past few weeks, a petition against the measure - which could see alarm owners who fail to register keyholder details fined a fixed notice of £80, increasing to £1,000 if they fail to pay within two weeks - has been mounted because of confidentiality concerns.
Organiser Alan Woolridge has vowed to continue his protests until the council agrees to a rethink. "Everyone I've spoken to is up in arms about it," he said.
But council officers have highlighted two contrasting cases which show that the policy can be effective.
The owners of one home in Barton hadn't registered their details with the council. So when their alarm sounded during the festive period neighbours had to endure the loud ringing for a long time because Envirocrime officers couldn't obtain a court order to gain entry at that time of year.
But when an alarm went off at a home in Kensworth, Envirocrime officers were able to get it switched off quickly as the owners had registered their keyholder details.
They contacted the keyholder, who swiftly silenced the alarm.
"It shows that it does work," said a council spokeswoman.
Source: Dunstable Gazette, 10 January 2007
The controversial Alarm Notification Area policy in South Beds will not impact on home insurance policies, according to the district council.
Several people living in South Beds have raised concerns that the measure - which means burglar alarm owners have to hand over contact details for their keyholders or face a fine - would impact on their insurance policies.
But a spokeswoman for South Beds District Council said: "We did check with insurance companies before we introduced the scheme and it won't affect home insurance cover."
The measure was introduced to cut down on endlessly ringing alarms and ensure that if a home alarm goes off it can be shut down quickly. South Beds District Council's Envirocrime Unit - who are overseeing the policy - have claimed a victory this week after they used keyholder contact details to quickly silence an alarm in Kensworth.
Source: Dunstable Today, 5 January 2006
That was the resounding message from South Beds District Council after Gazette readers flagged up their fears that the information database being created could be a valuable resource for criminals.
A petition has already been mounted calling for the council to prolong its condultation period.
The main organiser Alan Woolridge, who lives in Eaton Bray, has been calling on people with security concerns to withhold or withdraw details about the people with keys to their homes until the matter is given more consideration.
He could face a fine himself, as he has refused to submit full details of the people who have keys to his home.
But a statement from the council said: "We have received some enquiries but we have only had two formal requests for details to be removed from the database.
"Over 4,000 residents have registered keyholder details with us and we have received only a small number of complaints in comparison, therefore we do not think it is necessary to reconsider introducing the scheme.
"This is a positive step to reduce noise buisance and improve the environment for people in South Bedfordshire."
Mr Woolridge isn't convinced though. He said: "What they're doing is acknowledging there's a problem but they're not doing anything about it. They're not saying that because of the reaction they're going to defer and adjust it, they're just going to see what happens.
"By going ahead and letting this carry on there are people who are being forced to give information that they don't want to give because they don't think that they've got any alternative."
Mr Wollridge's petition highlights concerns that the database could allow criminals to work out which homes aren't fitter with alarms, and could mean that keyholders are targeted.
He has submitted contact phone numbers for his keyholders but he refuses to give names and addresses to identify who they are.
The alarm notification system which was given the thumbs-up by councillors earlier this year, was introduced in a bid to tackle the noise nuicance caused by ringing alarms.
Householders with burglar alarms are required to register contact information about the people with keys to their home, so that if their alarm sounds when they're away, members of the council's Envirocrime Unit can act quickly to get the alarm turned off.
There will be a warning period of two months, after which time alarm owners could face a fixed fine of £80 if they fail to register these details, and if they don't pay this within 14 days they will be fined £1,000.
Forms can be filled in through the council's website, and can be obtained by contacting the Envirocrime Unit on 01582 474031.
Source: Dunstable Gazette, 27 December 2006
The district council has signed up to an Alarm Notification Order, which requires anyone who is responsible for an intruder alarm to register a keyholder who can be contacted if it sounds unintentionally.
Implementing the order passes the responsibility for maintaining a keyholder database from Beds Police to the district council.
Noise nuisance from alarms occurs all year round but is particularly prevalent during weekends and holiday periods.
The council's Envirocrime Unit has the power to silence alarms but this takes time and can also result in a significant cost to the building owner, possibly in excess of £300.
The order takes effect from midnight on Sunday and anyone responsible for an alarm, whether on a private or commercial property, must register keyholder details before midnight on December 24. Anyone who has a new alarm fitted after Sunday must register it within 28 days.
To comply with the order at least one keyholder must be registered with the council. That person must be able to gain access to the alarm controls; live close to the home or business; know how to turn the alarm off; and agree to be a keyholder. The information held on the database is secure and in accordance with the Data Protection Act.
Anyone who does not comply with the order will face a fixed penalty of £80, or a maximum fine of £1,000 if the fine is not paid within 14 days.
Councillor Brian Spurr has executive responsibility for environmental issues and said: "Building alarms are an extremely useful security measure but can cause a nuisance to local residents if they sound accidentally.
"The order will ensure an up-to-date and accurate database of keyholders that in turn will enable envirocrime officers to silence alarms more quickly and without the expense to the building owner."
Alarms can be registered with the council by filling in a form which is available from the envirocrime unit on telephone number 01582-474031. Copies can also be collected from the council's High Street North, Dunstable, offices or from local libraries and town council offices. A copy of the form can be downloaded from the council's website www.southbeds.gov.uk.
Source: Leighton Buzzard Observer, 21 November 2006