Garden theft, a growth area

Thieves may target not only the inside of your house but also the outside. Your household insurance policy is unlikely to cover the damage, as Paul Slade discovers
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Indy Lifestyle Online
It is easy to spend thousands of pounds on plants and decoration for your garden, as visitors to this week's Chelsea Flower Show have seen. It is equally easy to lose them. From a burglar or a vandal's point of view, a garden offers easy pickings and far less risk than breaking into your house.

The most ambitious thieves may go so far as to roll up a freshly turfed lawn and take that away. There have even been cases of whole garden ponds - complete with fountains and fish - being stolen.

A standard house and contents policy may give as little as pounds 250 cover for the loss of items such as plants or garden furniture, which will not be much help for big losses like these.

Ian Frater of Commercial Union says: "It's something that, a few years ago, you would never have imagined happening. Shrubs are costing a lot more, people are putting more expensive items in their gardens, and they are getting stolen."

David Jones is a director of JSJ Insurance Services, a Manchester financial adviser which offers a specialist garden insurance policy called Plantsmans Plus. He says: "We got some figures from Yorkshire Police when we set this contract up, and they were dealing with something like pounds 4m a year of theft from gardens.

"There really was some very expensive stuff gone. There's a lot of antique and semi-antique stuff in gardens now, and it's an obvious target for thieving."

Mr Jones recalls one recent Plantsmans Plus claim of pounds 10,000 from the owner of a large garden who had 14 statues stolen. One of Commercial Union's policyholders recently had a sundial worth pounds l,400 stolen. But anything from rose bushes to lawn mowers may also go missing.

Mr Frater says: "Let's say you leave the lawn mower lying on the front lawn while you go in to have lunch. Somebody might jump over the fence and nick the lawn mower. These are the sort of things that can happen."

Bonsai are another popular target. Mr Jones says: "Most of them are put outside on display. They're quite small, relatively easy to move, and very expensive. You just tuck them under your arm, and away you go." JSJ gives a 5 per cent discount to Bonsai owners who fit a microchip to identify their prize plant if it gets stolen.

Car boot sales seem to be a popular way to sell the stolen goods on. Norfolk police recently reported that their raids on local car boot sales had uncovered a lot of stolen shrubs.

Commercial Union and Legal & General both offer pounds 500 of cover for items left outside as part of their standard house and contents plans. Norwich Union, which underwrites the JSJ plan, offers pounds 1,000 for policyholders over 55. Plantsman Plus itself gives pounds 100 of cover for every pounds 2.50 spent in premiums (including insurance premium tax) with a minimum premium of pounds 50. The policy gives cover for fire, theft, vandalism and lightning.

Most standard house and contents policies will include cover for structural items such as footpaths, walls or gates. The contents element will cover property locked away in garages or sheds, although perhaps only up to a certain limit. L&G, for example, pays out up to 5 per cent of your total household contents cover for goods lost from outbuildings.

Mr Jones recommends photographing expensive items. "Photographs do make life easier in the event of a claim."

This neatly underlines one central point. As with so much of personal finance, garden insurance is all about planning for the fuchsia.

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