Should I get a burglar alarm?

Get the lowdown on the most effective burglar alarms with our helpful article

Alarm

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The police recommend home owners “install a visual burglar alarm” with a box on the outside of the house. But the police say it must be as part of a suite of prevention measures because “a burglar alarm on its own will not prevent entry to your home”.

Also consider extra security steps, such as external lighting and CCTV, locks and better security measures and making sure your neighbours can overlook your property entrances.

But alarms can help. And some home insurers offer discounts on approved, monitored alarms.

The latest (2018) crime statistics suggest 31% of homes now have a burglar alarm of some sort, down slightly from last year (32%), but part of a general rising trend. While almost a third (31%) of home owners increase security as part of general home improvements, 45% do so because of rising crime, such as a burglary at a friend’s or neighbour’s.

The British Security Industry Association (BSIA) estimates that, of the approximate eight million homes with alarms, 30% are audible-only alarms – alarms that ring or have a siren but are not monitored –  and just 2% are remotely monitored alarms.

What type of burglar alarm should I choose?

The top of the range alarm is a monitored system installed by a supplier accredited by either the National Security Inspectorate (NSI) - a NACOSS Gold supplier - or the Security Systems and Alarms Inspection Board (SSAIB) .

The BSIA only represents firms that meet these two inspection regimes. It says that kind of alarm might cost as much as £950 to install for a standard home. It could also have annual costs of perhaps £400 for the servicing and monitoring.

At the other end of the scale are DIY-installed systems costing as little as £200. A professionally fitted audible-only alarm could cost you £750 to install, the BSIA says.

You can choose alarms that either:

  • Ring or are silent
  • Contact you or contact a neighbour
  • Contact a monitoring station or the police
  • Are wifi or hard-wired

That means you can have a bells-only alarm that will ring if your home is broken into. You have to hope the siren scares off the burglar or that your neighbours will come running or call the police.

You can have an alarm that messages your smartphone, or a neighbour’s, when triggered. You then have to decide the next course of action, maybe in conjunction with a web-enabled CCTV system. These can sound an alarm bell when contacting you, or remain silent.

You can have wireless and portable alarm sensors that you can move about and position to suit you. Each unit will need its batteries changed when they run low.

Or you can have a professionally installed, hard-wired system that has a central back-up battery in case of a power cut. These may also be connected directly to a monitoring station and even call the police.

Are there any insurance-approved alarms?

Some insurers ask you to have an alarm or offer a discount either on the installation costs or on your premium if you have an alarm. They are likely to insist on an alarm installed by a NACOSS Gold installer, vetted and certified by the National Security Inspectorate (NSI), or one similarly approved by the Security Systems and Alarms Inspection Board (SSAIB).

If you want a monitored alarm that can be connected to the police, you must have one fitted by an approved installer. The National Police Chiefs’ Council sets rules governing alarms.

Although MoneySuperMarket’s research shows insurance premiums rise by as much as 16% after a burglary, it is unlikely that any insurer discount will cover the costs of the annual maintenance and monitoring for the alarm, let alone the installation costs.

It’s about peace of mind. These alarms can also have panic buttons so that you can instantly summon the police if an intruder gains entry while you are home.

And modern alarm sensors mean even dog and cat owners can have alarms installed that are clever enough to allow pets to roam without triggering the siren.

What is a NACOSS alarm?

NACOSS Gold is the recognised name for certified, approved alarm fitting. NACOSS Gold approval is run by the National Security Inspectorate (NSI), itself approved as an independent certification body by the United Kingdom Accreditation Service (UKAS).

The NSI is not a trade association of alarm fitters – it is independent. The other accreditation body is the Security Systems and Alarms Inspection Board (SSAIB).

To become an approved installer, a firm will have its work inspected, and tested to ensure it meets the highest standards. That means they must have been fitting alarms for four to six months before the approval process can even begin.

The NSI will also want to see that the firm screens employees to make sure that no alarm details are being passed to criminals, that the firm is financially secure and the management is of ‘repute’. The NSI also inspects each firm’s monitoring stations.

There are two NSI standards for home burglar alarms:

  • System silver: The company accurately installs and fits alarms and its monitoring stations function correctly
  • NACOSS Gold: This includes everything for silver plus the firm meets the internationally recognised ISO 9001 quality management standard

The NSI offers a service so you can find a NACOSS Gold alarm installer in your area. The SSAIB also offers a service to find an installer.

What happens if my NACOSS alarm is triggered?

A monitoring station will detect the alarm and first check to see if there is continued activity in the property. If there is no further triggering of the sensor they may just call you or your other named contacts.

There might be fault on your system. There might have been a rodent or bird that has got into the building. Even a lack of dusting leaving a spider’s web in front of a sensor can trigger a false alarm.

If the monitoring centre identifies continued activity in your home, they will notify the police. How fast the police respond will depend on how busy they are at that time. If you have had a false alarm before they may not rush either. Repeated false alarms and you risk being removed from the police list.

Note: If you press the panic button, that will be treated as a priority call and the police will respond as soon as they can.

Can my insurer refuse my claim if I forgot to set my alarm?

In short, no an insurer is unlikely to deny your claim completely. They may reduce the amount paid to you. This applies too to door and window locks and other home security features your insurer may have specified.

Your insurer has either discounted your premium or accepted your home as a risk it was prepared to cover on the basis that you will use the security measures you have detailed. It is reasonable of them to pay less, or to refuse to insure you in future, if you then do not use those security devices.

However, if you simply forget to turn on your alarm once and are unlucky enough to be burgled that day, it is unlikely an insurer’s rejection of your claim would stand up to scrutiny by the Financial Ombudsman’s service. Your alarm company records would show you used the alarm regularly.

But if you have an alarm, get into the habit of using it every time you leave the house. Some you can also set for downstairs only when you go to bed at night.

Will a burglar alarm guarantee the security of my home?

Sadly, a burglar alarm is no guarantee that your home won’t be burgled. There are lots of physical steps you can take that, together with an alarm, can reduce the risk of burglary, but nothing can guarantee you won’t be burgled.

And while most burglars say they would avoid homes with alarms, a small, hard-core of villains see a burglar alarm as a sign of wealth and may, perversely, be more attracted to break in to see what spoils they can steal.

But having an alarm can put pressure on any intruder to leave quickly, perhaps taking with them fewer of your possessions. The NSI has a series of top tips on securing your home in addition to having a burglar alarm. The SSAIB also offers a page of advice.

How do I choose an alarm company?

The first check would be to make sure they are NACOSS Gold using the NSI search function or SSAIB approved, using its search function. Speak to your home insurer to see if they recommend any firms or offer discounts for specific providers.

Choosing from among approved firms will then be your personal choice.

You might want to bear in mind some analysis by researcher Plimsoll. It provides an analysis of each of the UK’s leading burglar alarm companies based on the past five years of financial accounts.

Of the 784 UK based Burglar Alarm Providers that Plimsoll assessed, 326 were rated as being in a strong financial position while 145 others were flagged as being in danger.

Taken as a sample from the 326, the following are some of the companies Plimsoll rated financially strong based on their latest filed accounts:

  • Keyways Security Systems
  • Chubb Systems
  • Universal Security Systems
  • Openview Group
  • Pointer
  • ABCA Systems
  • ADT Fire & Security
  • Metro Security
  • SECOM
  • Protec Fire & Security Group.

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