Battling the burglars

New-tech home alarms cost little and they work. That's why firms are offering them with contents insurance
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The Independent Online

Next month Churchill Insurance will launch a package so those buying its house contents insurance can also buy a monitored burglar alarm system. Although burglar alarms are no good without locks and bolts they are effective. The latest British Crime Survey shows where an alarm is fitted 59 per cent of burglars are unsuccessful. In 1997 there were 1.6 m domestic burglaries.

Next month Churchill Insurance will launch a package so those buying its house contents insurance can also buy a monitored burglar alarm system. Although burglar alarms are no good without locks and bolts they are effective. The latest British Crime Survey shows where an alarm is fitted 59 per cent of burglars are unsuccessful. In 1997 there were 1.6 m domestic burglaries.

We British have shown a considerable laisser-faire attitude towards burglar alarms. Less than 10 per cent of us have a professionally fitted alarm and fewer have monitored ones. They had a bad press. In 1996 the police lost patience with false alarms, 98 per cent of call-outs. They said unless an alarm was monitored 24 hours a day by a professional surveillance company police would not respond unless the caller could be certain someone had broken into the premises. That rang the death knell of the old "bell only" alarms.

Now new technology has given us high-quality alarms, less likely to trip unexpectedly and at a reasonable price. And there has been a shake out in the alarm industry, big US Tyco and Protection One and Japanese-owned Secom buying up smaller British fry.

Business is buoyant, says Peter Fowler of Westminster Security Group. "We get a 60 per cent take-up rate from inquiries," he adds. "There are also the new building contracts automatically fitting upmarket homes with alarms. The price has fallen dramatically and we can install a simple system for a three- to four-bedroom house for between £50 and £100, and provide maintenance and monitoring for £180 a year."

The Oriol package from Norwich Union Direct means if you take out NU contents insurance its installer will provide you with a system for £550 and maintain and monitor it for £100 a year. The householder also gets a 5 to 12 per cent discount on contents insurance.

Churchill Insurance's new deal costs £340 plus £250 a year for monitoring and maintenance, with a 5 per cent discount on its contents insurance. Even if you buy no alarms, most firms offer 5 to 10 per cent discount on contents insurance.

ATI's Extra Watch fits its own system and Protection One maintains and monitors them. ATI charges £299 to fit a basic package and monitoring and maintenance costs £360 a year. There are less expensive deals. Basic packages have two infra-red movement detectors, a "door contact" , a control panel and a panic button for the householder, usually in the main bedroom.

To secure police response to a monitored system the homeowner has to find two friends who will act as keyholders, living no more than 20 minutes from the house and prepared to come if the police alert them while the owner is away.

The British Security Industry Association: factsheet 01905 21464

Norwich Union Direct: 01603 622200

Churchill Insurance: 0181 313 3030

ATI Extra Watch: 0800 525484

* Call your local crime prevention police officer for advice on which alarm company to use.

* Make sure your installer is registered with one of the equipment and installation regulatory bodies like Nacoss.

* Find out what the installer is giving you.

* You can install a bell-only alarm and still add monitoring later.

* Unless you are very skilled and/or prepared for disappointments it is not advisable to buy DIY chain burglar alarms, either wired or wire-less.

* If you want a wire-less system (you can take it with you when you leave), feel confident about your installer and make sure it is police sanctioned.

* Be alert to how the system is put in if you have pets. They are notorious triggers of alarms.

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