If you want peace of mind, be alarmed

Security cuts the cost of insuring your home, writes Edmund Tirbutt
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The Independent Online
Whatever politicians say about combating crime, we can rest assured there will be no immediate miracles. If recent history is any guide, there will be around three-quarters of a million burglaries this year in England and Wales, half of which will not be covered by insurance.

Even if you are insured, or if little of value is actually taken, a burglary can have a big emotional impact. Research shows that around one in five lose sleep over an incident.

Having suitable locks, alarm systems and other security measures can greatly reduce the chances of an unwelcome visit - and cut the costs of insuring the contents of your home.

Jennifer Watts, personal insurances adviser at Colin Ryan Insurance Brokers, says: "People always think that security devices are going to cost them thousands, but they may well find they get back on premium reductions what they spend on security within a couple of years."

A basic audible alarm, which can be bought for about pounds 250 at a DIY shop, does not even have to ring to prove its security value; that it is clearly visible on the outside wall may prove deterrent enough. Dummy versions, available for around pounds l5, are therefore a worthwhile alternative.

If you own a jewellery collection of any value, having a safe installed can cost as little as pounds 250. More sophisticated alarms, able to transmit a silent signal to a security station in the event of a break-in, cost about pounds l,000. These can incorporate panic buttons and duress codes - to indicate that someone has been forced to disconnect.

Getting membership of a local Neighbourhood Watch Scheme, where neighbours combine with the police to try to prevent crime in the locality, is also highly recommended. Those going away for lengthy periods can keep their home occupied by using a house-sitting company. Homesitters, the market leader, can arrange for a carefully vetted sitter to move in for about pounds 20 a day.

Ensuring that property can be identified if it does get stolen should be a priority. Police recommend that art and antiques be photographed so they can be checked against the Art Loss Register if stolen. They advise that more mundane items should be marked with an owner's postcode and house number.

In most cases these details should be etched on, using a sharp pointed instrument. Otherwise, they can be written invisibly in ultraviolet pen - available for around pounds l from a police station or DIY shop. Police routinely check stolen items for ultraviolet markings. Your local crime prevention officer should be able to provide details of these and other security methods. Otherwise, some of the organisations concerned can be contacted via the phone numbers listed below.

Those who live in inner-city or other high-risk areas will probably have to meet certain minimum security standards to be insured at all. Door locks may have to be up to British Standards (packaging should bear a "BS 3621" kite mark), and windows easily reached from the outside may have to be locked with a key. Alarms and safes may also be compulsory if a home has objects of value. In less risky areas, those who meet approved lock standards may well achieve premium reductions of 5 to 10 per cent.

Standard household insurers offer discounts of 5 to 15 per cent for alarms fitted by a firm recognised by the National Approval Council for Security Systems. Insurers will normally provide lists of Nacoss-registered firms.

Some may even help towards alarm costs. Norwich Union, for example, offers audible alarms at half price and handles their installation. Policyholders pay their share by having an extra pounds 5 a month added to their premium for five years. Installation subsidies are most common among the "high net worth" insurers. Cox Underwriting, for example, may pay up to pounds 400 towards upgrading or installing an alarm.

Membership of a Neighbourhood Watch Scheme could attract a 5 to 15 per cent premium reduction from a standard household insurer. General Accident has even been known to offer savings of 40 per cent to those who deal through one of its 60 "Neighbourhood Watch brokers".

Insurers may also offer favourable terms if a property is occupied during the day or if Homesitters is used while you are away on holiday.

Policyholders guilty of acts of gross negligence, like leaving a front door unlocked, may find their insurer refuses to pay their claim. For lesser negligence, such as not locking a window, an insurer may honour the claim but impose an additional excess. This could total several hundred pounds.

Contacts: the Neighbourhood Watch Association, 0171 690 9317; Nacoss, 01628 37512; Homesitters, 01296 630 730; Art Loss Register 0171 235 3393; Loss Prevention Council, 0181 207 2345.

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