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Clare Francis: National crime statistics reveal that burglary is the only type of crime that's still rising.
Moneysupermarket.com has analysed 2.6million home insurance enquiries and identified the areas of the UK most likely to be targeted by thieves. Top of the list are postcode districts in Nottingham and London and some of the hotspots are perhaps quite surprising. For example, Fulham in London, Maidenhead in Berkshire and West Bridgford in Nottingham.
Julie Owens, head of home insurance at moneysupermarket.com, is with me to discuss the findings and offer her advice on how to minimise the chances of you falling victim to thieves.
Q1: So Julie, what were the main things that stood out for you in the findings of this research?
Julie Owens: Well actually you may not think you're living in a crime capital, but actually theft is on the increase and therefore it's absolutely vital that you get your contents and personal belongings insured.
There were some surprising areas that came out in the research, such as Maidenhead in Berkshire and I think that's the fact that that might be an area that's open to opportunistic thieves -
Q2: Yes, because obviously it's quite affluent and you may think it's quite a safe place to live, but obviously because of its affluence I guess it's potentially rich pickings?
JO: That's right, absolutely, and it could be classed as high risk from that point of view, and the insurer might actually apply a blanket approach to rating for that postcode district.
So it's vital to get insurance but it's also vital to shop around on the premium for that insurance, and do all you can to reduce it. For instance, in Maidenhead in Berkshire the premiums range for your contents insurance from £65 to around £285, so shopping around is vital.
Q3: It makes a huge difference. What can you do - we'll go onto what you can do to minimise the premiums and bring that down - but what can you do first of all to reduce the chance of you being targeted by thieves if burglary is on the up?
JO: Yes, absolutely. Don't invite the thieves in would be my recommendation. Obviously make sure for instance first of all that the perimeters of your house and your gates and fences are secure, they're not left open.
As we get into the winter months, draw your curtains don't leave any valuables on display, don't invite them in as it were by putting your worldly goods on display on the table in the living room.
And also think about your lighting as well, security lighting both outdoors and actually if you're away from home - say for a holiday - make sure that your lights are on a timer switch and actually come on in the evening. It gives the illusion that somebody's in the house.
Q4: And I guess even if they might be suspicious that you are away on holiday, if a burglars there they'll perhaps not going to be prepared to take the risk just in case?
JO: That's right, it's an extra deterrent. The other things you can do to make it look as if you're still at home is get a neighbour to come around and pick up the post occasionally, so there's not a lot of mail on your doorstep which actually encourages people to look twice whether your homes occupied or not.
Q5: Obviously the way insurers price and base insurance premiums is looking at risks, looking at those sorts of factors - one of which is obviously theft claims and things like that associated risk - but there are other major risks aren't there that are quite fundamental that can have a big impact on the amount you pay. Can you just explain a bit about those?
JO: Yes, the other factors that may apply for insurers to treat your postcode as a high-risk area would be subsidence, if any of the properties in the surrounding area - or indeed your property - has had subsidence or is at risk of subsidence; and also the other major area is flooding. So how near you are to water, and whether there is any experience in the local area of flooding. Both of those factors, combined with the theft risk, will mean that insurers look at it and say "is this a high risk area for me or not?"
Also the other factor that they may take into account is affluence of an area. So again it's not going to be high crime, but it's going to be an area that could be targeted by thieves because it's a relatively affluent area and that maybe why Fulham actually came out in our top hotspots for theft.
Q6: So what can you do then? Obviously prices vary massively depending on the insurer, but what can you do what steps can you take to bring your home insurance premiums down to a minimum?
JO: It's absolutely vital that you look at the security of your property, and anything that would deter a thief.
So, first of all make sure that you have got suitable locks, both on your doors and on your windows and actually use them - in the case of window locks - sometimes that will be the difference of an insurer being prepared to quote for you or not being prepared to offer you a price at all.
Q7: But is there a risk if you have got window locks and you don't use them, for example, and you get burgled, is there a risk that your claim could be turned down?
JO: I think that could be looked at, at claim stage. I think that really depends on a case by case basis, but the insurer will want to know if you have specified you have window locks, why on earth they weren't actually in force and used at the time of the claims. So, it could come into the equations, yes.
But the other thing you can do to bring your premium down is understand if there is a neighbourhood watch scheme in your area. If there is join it - as an active member you would get a discount of up to 5% on your premium.
The other thing you can think of is an alarm. Even if it's a bells only alarm, it deters a thief, so insurers are prepared to sort of reduce premiums by about 7.5% on alarms, particularly if they are professionally installed, maintained and actually contact the police.
Q8: How often do you have to have them checked over?
JO: It's usually about once a year and you can get that done on the service contract. But that's part of the alarm company, they can offer you various packages for that.
Q9: I know my old house had an old alarm that I don't know when it had last been serviced - so actually when I spoke to the insurer, because I didn't have a record of it they basically couldn't include it in the discount.
JO: Yes, I think if you do have one installed you do need to get it maintained and that is important for the insurer because whilst it will act as a deterrent just being an alarm box on your house, they want to make sure that obviously, should the worst happen and an opportunistic thief strike, they are not going to actually away with more because you have alerted people around you to the fact that a theft is taking place.
Q10: Whilst cost is obviously an important factor because you obviously don't want to be paying more then you need for your insurance. It's also really important to ensure that you have got adequate cover isn't it, because you don't want to find yourself under insured?
JO: Absolutely I think that's vital, and I would urge people to have a look around there home and actually list anything of significant value, talk to your insurer about that, make sure its adequately insured and specified, because they are the items that you potentially are going to find difficult to replace.
Q11: And one of the things I think has changed a lot recently with regards to what burglars look for if they do break in is, because the cost of electrical goods has come down so much, they are perhaps looking more a jewellery and other items that are easy to take away with them and that they are going to get more for so they are the things to really focus on aren't they?
JO: Yes, they are. And if you think about them, they are the things that have huge sentimental value for you as well, so they are not easy to replace, whereas a TV is a TV and you can get one fairly easily. So yes, make sure those kinds of items are locked away and kept out of sight and actually that you have got receipts for them - which is really important - and you have specified them on the home insurance policy.
CF: And photographs as well...
JO: Photographs are a real bonus. If you can do that then that just makes life a lot easier for the insurer.
CF: Great, thank you Julie.
JO: Thank you.
Read Felicity King-Evens article 'Do you live in one of the 20 riskiest postcodes'