How to protect your garden against burglars

Spring is said to be the time of plans and projects, but while you might be planning to spruce up your garden over the coming weeks, opportunist thieves may have their own nefarious plans too.

Homeowners are once again being warned about the annual increase in garden thefts that usually accompanies the winding forward of the clocks and rising temperatures.

So if you're thinking about refurbishing your garden with new furniture, water features, plants, lawns and paving stones, here’s a look at what you need to do to make sure you’re not making it easy for thieves.

‘Prepared to pounce’

According to research by Halifax Home Insurance, there was a 10% increase in the value of burglary claims registered in the spring months of 2012, compared to the previous year – averaging at £1,600 per claim.

What's more, the latest Office for National Statistics’ Crime Survey for England & Wales shows that around 700,000 gardens were targeted by thieves last year. As a result, Halifax is warning homeowners to make sure they’re not easy targets.

Senior Claims Manager Martyn Foulds said: “Although it’s a delight to be seeing brighter weather and let in the fresh air, it’s important to  ensure doors, windows, sheds and garages are securely locked and valuables are kept out of sight both inside and outside to protect your home from opportunist thieves prepared to pounce in broad daylight.”

According to our latest data on home insurance claims, homeowners in the LS13 (Leeds), BD12 (Bradford) and N12 (London) postcodes in particular might want to take note, as they’re the country’s top three areas for home insurance claims.

Will my home insurance cover my garden?

Not necessarily. Some insurers will cover some of the contents of your garden, but only up to a certain value, and there will be exclusions.

For example, contents insurance with the AA will cover up to £1,000 worth of ‘contents in the open’ (think barbecues, ornaments etc.). But you won’t be covered for damage caused by floods or storms. Cover for plants, trees, lawn and shrubs ('garden cover') only goes up to £250.

Of course, most insurers will extend your cover if you pay more, but it’s still worth checking your policy wording to see exactly how much you’d be covered for and what’s excluded.

The same goes for furniture and garden equipment kept in sheds or garages. Again, the AA’s standard contents insurance will cover you against theft from your outbuildings or domestic garage up to £3,000 – but there are a few exclusions in the policy wording you need to check. For example, you won't be covered for any money or valuables left in outbuildings.

It's a good idea to go around your garden and tot up the value of everything to ensure you've got sufficient cover. If you don't have enough cover, your insurer could refuse to pay out your claim in full. But also be aware that your claim could be turned down altogether if you fail to show “reasonable care” of your property. For example, if your shed wasn’t locked, was ransacked and all your power tools were stolen, the insurer might well refuse to pay for your claim.

You can compare home insurance and contents cover over on our home insurance channel, but remember to not just look at the price, but also the policy wording, to make sure it covers you for everything you need it to.

Keeping your property secure

Prevention is better than cure, so it’s sensible to make things as difficult as possible for thieves, no matter how well insured your property is.

If there’s anything in your garden ‘in the open’ that you wouldn’t want stolen, it makes sense to keep it in a locked shed or outbuilding when not in use. This also prevents enterprising thieves from using any items as tools to break into your outbuildings or home.

High fences, gates and hedges will stop thieves from window shopping and security lights will put them in an uncomfortable spotlight if curiosity gets the better of them and they do find a way onto your property.

While it’s still a bit chilly to be opening windows to cool your home down, you might already be leaving doors or windows open to run extension cables through for lawn mowers, power washers and other mains-powered tools. If you’re going to do this, make sure you’re running the cable through a door or window you can keep an eye on and remove the cable as soon as you’re done.

If you buy any particularly expensive garden furniture, gadgets or ornaments, speak to your home insurer to find out if you need to increase your level of cover. Most insurers have a single item limit – often around £1,500 – and anything over this must be listed separately on your policy.

If you’re putting in some new plants or shrubs, you might consider putting something particularly prickly around your borders to give thieves an extra obstacle.

You could also mark or carefully engrave any power tools and other equipment with your postcode or house number. Better yet, you can pick up UV ‘invisible ink’ pens online for less than a fiver, which will make it easy for police to retrieve any stolen goods.

Take the proper precautions now and you’ll be able to enjoy the warmer weather when it eventually comes, and get on with those plans and projects with peace of mind.

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