A student course in smash-and-grab

They've got plenty worth stealing and one in four undergraduates are burgled. Emma Lunn shows how they can insure their belongings
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The Independent Online

Student loan? Check. CDs? Check. TV and iPod? Check. Countdown DVDs? Check. Insurance policy? Say that again.

Undergraduate finances are tight at the best of times, so buying contents cover might not be high on the "to do" list of many of this year's freshers.

But university digs are a target for thieves, with 70 per cent of students owning a laptop or computer and nearly nine in 10 a mobile phone.

One in three students become a victim of crime at university, with one in four being burgled, according to research from Saga Home Insurance.

"Making new friends and socialising will be high on their agenda, and security is unlikely to be at the forefront of their minds," says Saga chief executive Andrew Goodsell.

But shared student houses, in particular, offer rich pickings. There will be plenty of valuable equipment to steal in one go and burglars tend to be aware of when the property will be empty - because of lectures, for example, or during university holidays.

"The value of [student belongings] can run into thousands of pounds," says Gemma Tumelty, secretary of the National Union of Students. "So it's clear that insurance is not a luxury - it's a necessity."

Students have two options for covering their possessions: paying for their own specialist contents policy or getting added to their parents' home insurance.

The second of these will look more convenient as it often comes at no extra cost. "Several big insurers - including Norwich Union, Lloyds TSB and More Th>n - offer this option for no charge," says Richard Mason of the price-comparison website insuresupermarket.com.

"The cover includes up to £5,000 worth of possessions or 15 per cent of the sum insured on the parents' policy - which is normally about £30,000 and therefore provides insurance for £4,500 worth of possessions."

Other firms charge a small additional sum to insure students away from home. Saga, for example, levies an extra £31.05 annual premium on parents for £3,500 of student cover.

But there are pitfalls in adding a student son or daughter's name to the parents' insurance. One problem is that most policies won't cover possessions if the accommo- dation is left unoccupied during vacations. Both Privilege and the Halifax, for example, state in effect that student belongings should be in the family home outside term time.

Another problem is that, due to the nature of many of the burglaries that afflict students, the parents' home insurance may not pay out on a claim.

"Many parental policies are not suitable as they don't cover students in the event of a 'walk-in theft', where there is no evidence of forced entry," explains Tim Larden, a spokesman for insurer Endsleigh. "But that's a risk in halls or shared houses."

Endsleigh, which does pay out, reports that "walk-ins" account for one in three theft claims.

"Over the past year, we have encountered more and more students who believed their possessions were covered on their parents' insurance, only to find they had no protection at all or very limited cover," adds Mr Larden.

Don't forget that any claim will hit the size of the parents' premiums the following year.

Students staying in halls of residence may find that they already have protection. Cover4students runs Campus Insurance, which automatically covers the possessions of students living in university-managed accommodation in a number of universities, including Bristol, Birmingham and Loughborough.

If you live in halls without such "block cover" in place, Cover4students offers policies starting at £16.

Insurance for private rented accommodation is more expensive. A comprehensive annual policy protecting computers and bikes during holidays would cost £57.50 with Cover4students in Nottingham, although it sets a cap on vacation time at 35 days, so the summer probably won't be covered.

Where you study also influences how much you pay: a similar policy in Coventry would cost £115.

TWO BREAK-INS BUT NO CRISES

Geraldine Hall, 20, has been burgled twice while studying nursing at Northampton University.

"The first time was in my first year. I had a downstairs room in halls and they broke in through a window and stole my laptop," she says.

"Thankfully, it was covered on my parents' Churchill policy. My mother sorted it out and it was replaced quite quickly.

"However, I was burgled again in my second year - this time in rented accommodation. They stole my laptop again.

"But being insured on my parents' policy made the break-in less stressful and I could get back to my university work immediately.

"Now I make sure I bring all my belongings home during the university holidays."

Although being on the family insurance has brought peace of mind, her parents' premiums have risen as a result.

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