How safe is your home?

If you thought that Halloween was the only time to be on guard against things that go bump in the night, then think again. Research shows that home burglaries typically leap by 20% during the winter months – and some of us should be more worried about that than others.

Moneysupermarket.com has revealed that Doncaster and Bristol residents are more likely to have their homes burgled than residents in any other part of the UK. As part of our research into the top 20 burglary-prone postcodes, we found that almost 6% of homes in both of these areas have made claims on their home insurance following thefts over the past year.

It may have been surprising to see Doncaster and Bristol edge ahead of London in the list, but seven of the capital’s postcodes still made the top 20. Other burglary-prone areas included postcodes in Nottingham, Sheffield, Birmingham, Reading and Canvey Island, which lies off the south coast of Essex.

More than 729,000 burglaries take place each year and with the clocks going back last weekend, the shortened days give burglars an extended cover of darkness during which they can target vulnerable homes. With the average cost of a burglary last year at £2,000 its vital homeowners take all the preventative measures they can to avoid becoming a victim.

Top tips to protect your property

There are a number of relatively inexpensive precautions you can take to protect your home. Here are our top ten tips:

·         Take out suitable home insurance

Home insurance won’t prevent you from falling victim to thieves, but it provides valuable peace of mind. However, it’s vital to accurately value the things in your home.

It can be tempting to under-estimate the value of your contents in order to minimise the cost of cover, but this can be an expensive mistake. If you have to make a claim and your insurer discovers you are under-insured it can refuse the claim, or only pay a proportion of it.

Premiums vary significantly, so the best way to save on the cost of protection and ensure you have an adequate level of cover is to shop around. Our comparison tool makes this easy as moneysupermarket.com compares prices from 36 home insurance providers and brokers.

·         Take care of valuables

Keep your valuables away from windows and out of sight. It’s worth security marking your property with an ultra-violet market pen – you can use this to place an invisible imprint of your postcode and house number on possessions. 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.

·         Pay attention to doors and windows

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. 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 convenient hiding place such as under a plant pot or under a door mat, as thieves know where to look.

·         Alarming success

If you fit a house alarm you could earn a discount from your insurer – ask if it recommends a particular brand. While an alarm won’t prevent a burglary, it is a strong deterrent so ensure it is positioned prominently. If you have an alarm installed you may also qualify for a discount on your insurance premium.

·         Invest in other security devices

There are several other security devices that might be convenient to install and could earn you a home insurance discount. These include security lights, time-switch lights, security cameras, padlocks for sheds and outbuildings, and double glazing on windows.

·         Don’t forget the garden

Ensure garden items are secured each night and keep bins and ladders out of sight as these could be used to gain access. A high wall or trellising on a fence top could be a useful deterrent as they will stop thieves from making a quick escape. Also think about planting prickly hedges or thorny bushes close to windows so thieves can’t see inside.

·         Join a Neighbourhood Watch scheme

Several home insurers may also offer discounts if you sign up for a Neighbourhood Watch scheme. Building relationships with neighbours can help provide extra vigilance for your home and bring the community together.

·         If you’re taking a trip

If you’re going away for an extended holiday, a long weekend or even are just away for the night, it’s worth asking a friend  or neighbour you trust to pop around to your home and ensure there is no mail or newspaper in the letterbox – a tell-tale sign that no-one is home. Make sure you cancel milk deliveries, and if you trust someone enough to give them a spare key, ask them to enter your property and open and shut curtains each morning and night. Time-switch lights are another option to give burglars the impression you are at home. Finally, remember not to give out information too freely that you’ll be away from home – don’t leave a recording on your answer phone or post a message on Facebook for example saying you’ll be away.

·         If you’re renting a property

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 – if your keys are stolen this will give a thief information that will lead them straight to your property. 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 home insurance for your possessions so use a comparison website to find a competitive policy.

·         Establish a routine

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 compulsive, 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.

What happens if a burglary takes place?
If you’re unfortunate enough to fall victim to a burglary, report it to the police as soon as possible and obtain an incident number.

From there, get in touch with your insurer and provide as much detail as you can about what has been taken. If the home is no longer secure make sure the police and the insurer are both informed – most insurers have specialist teams that can carry out any necessary replacement or repair work as a priority.  

Your insurance documents should outline the procedure you will be expected to follow. A home insurance company may be willing to take details of what has been stolen over the phone, or it may send out a loss adjuster to assess the property. As long as you filled out your home insurance policy thoroughly and honestly you shouldn’t have a problem making a claim.

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