Credit crunch crimewave - protect your home

Cases of burglary tend to rise during times of economic hardship, yet millions of households are leaving themselves exposed because they have no insurance.

Buildings insurance is a legal requirement, but contents cover isn’t and as a result around 10% of households have not insured their belongings. But with the average burglary claim being £2,000 this can prove a costly mistake.

Latest Home Office figures show that one family every two minutes suffers the misery of a burglary in the UK. The number of domestic break-ins rose by 4% to 69,000 between July and September last year – the first increase in seven years.

Peace of mind is priceless … and cheaper than you think

Recently, Home Secretary Jacqui Smith warned of a possible rise in levels of theft, burglary and robbery as the economy suffers a downturn. So, now is not the time to cut back on insurance cover as a way of making savings.

Shop around for a great deal – insuring your valuables needn’t be expensive. For example, someone living in a three-bed semi in Maidstone, Kent could get £40,000 of contents cover for just £54.25 a year from 1stQuote.

Comparing prices and levels of cover is easy – moneysupermarket.com’s home insurance comparison tool enables you to get quotes from more than 40 insurers and brokers.

Don’t be left out of pocket - are you fully covered?

Start with a back-to-basics checklist before you update or change your policy – it is essential to have an up-to-date estimate of the value of your home and possessions. Your contents could be worth a lot more than you think - just think about the clothes in your wardrobe or CD/DVD collection. The value of these alone could well run into the thousands.

It’s worth totting up your belongings’ worth once a year to take account of new possessions you may have bought or been given. All too often, individuals don’t do this leaving themselves potentially under-insured. 

It’s estimated that the average British household under-insures its contents by about £10,000. You risk having a claim turned down if you’re under-insured. If the insurer believes you have under-valued the contents of your home to keep your premium down it may turn down, or only pay a proportion of the claim.

Be one step ahead of burglars and follow our security ‘checklist’

Let’s hope you never need to make a claim. One way to steer clear of claims is to avoid all risks of a break-in with our property and belongings safeguarding checklist:

Out of sight, out of mind

Keep valuables out of the sight of eager thieves by storing them away from windows and areas where a thief could get a good view. Keep valuables away from hallways and areas of access – thieves will often knock on your door or find an excuse to post something through your letter box just to get a good look inside.

It’s rubbish to you but gold dust to a burglar

Rifling through your rubbish bin and bags can give thieves a field day. Not only may they find valuable paperwork with your banking or personal details on and evidence of recent purchases (packaging, receipts, fancy carrier bags), it may also arm them with plenty of inspiration to break in to your home. Get into the habit of shredding all important paper work. Also, take rubbish to your local recycling site or tip.

Fool them that you’re at home when you go away

If you’re planning to be away and leaving your home unoccupied - even briefly - one of the strongest pieces of advice from crime prevention officers is to make your property appear as if you were at home. Do this by leaving a timer-switch light active, the radio switched on or get a neighbour to open and close your curtains if you’re away for a while – making the place look like you're at home. Cancel any deliveries (milk etc) and be careful who you tell you are going away – announcing it on Facebook is not always a good idea – you just never know.

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Don’t give them a leg up

Leaving your wheelie bin and ladders in the garden and even worse, near rear windows is an open invitation to a thief looking for easy access. Put ladders away and keep your bin out of sight. In your garden, fit a secure lock on your shed and consider investing in fences, railings and strategically placed thorny bushes.

Kit out your house and reap the benefits

Kitting out your home with the latest in security devices is a great investment. Owning an alarm is not only one of the key ‘turn offs’ for a burglar, it can also reduce your insurance premium. Likewise, visible, key-operated window and door locks boost your security too and earn you brownie points with your insurer who will reduce your premium again. Security cameras and security lighting could earn you a further discount but it’s worth consulting your insurer first about which devices to install.

Take extra care of valuables

Store particularly precious belongings out of sight. Invest in an ultra-violet marker pen and security mark your items with your name and postcode and a date.  Hold on to receipts and even take photographs of valuable purchases just in case a claim is necessary. It may also be worth installing a safe in your home to protect valuables such as credit cards, cash and small electronic equipment. Also, remember to get your jewellery valued every few years by a reputable jeweller and keep your insurer informed of any new expensive purchases.

Doors and windows – what the police recommend

Doors and windows are the most obvious point of entry into any home so make sure you have strong locks in place and that they are being used properly. Crime prevention officers recommend five-lever mortise deadlocks (British Standard BS3621) should be fitted to all external doors (and will probably be a requirement under the terms of your insurance policy). If you are replacing any doors and windows, get ones that are certified to PAS 24-1 (doors) and British Standard BS7950 (windows). Doors should be at least 44mm thick and you should consider using laminated glass on windows as this is tougher for thieves to break. Never leave keys in a hiding place such as under a plant pot or under a door mat, as thieves know where to look.

Join a Neighbourhood Watch scheme

Signing up for a Neighbourhood Watch scheme can also reduce your premium and many insurers look very favourably on them. Building relationships with neighbours can help provide extra vigilance for your home and such schemes are known to be a deterrent.

Renting

Just like homeowners, you need to be vigilant – particularly about access to your flat or house and your belongings. If you live in a housing block talk to your landlord about installing a telephone entry system and don't put your name or number on a key-ring.  It's worth changing the locks if previous tenants could still be in possession of keys. Remember that while your landlord will usually have insurance on the building you will still need to take out contents cover for your own possessions.

Establish a routine

Finally, before you leave the house each morning, run through a quick routine in which you check that all windows and doors are locked and that the alarm is switched on. Make a brief list of areas that must be checked before you leave the home - it may seem overly cautious, but it can be very reassuring. You could also add non-security related checks to the list, such as ensuring that electrical items are unplugged and save on your energy bills too.

Disclaimer: Please note that any rates or deals mentioned in this article were available at the time of writing.

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