It isn't just the Grinch who steals Christmas

'Tis the season to think about home insurance, says Sam Dunn

Full-to-bursting freezers, crates of wine and those expensive presents under the tree are tempting targets for burglars during the festive season. Last December, goods worth £36m were stolen in an estimated 35,000 break-ins.

Full-to-bursting freezers, crates of wine and those expensive presents under the tree are tempting targets for burglars during the festive season. Last December, goods worth £36m were stolen in an estimated 35,000 break-ins.

The average family is set to spend £670 on gifts this year, so it's worth stepping aside from the festive hullabaloo to make sure your home contents policy covers the cost of these extra purchases. While it won't take away the trauma of a break-in, it will at least soften the blow to know you won't be losing out financially.

Whether you actually have to extend the terms of your home contents policy will depend on your generosity and on your existing cover. Not all insurers cover items in the same way but generally they demand higher premiums for those considered "high risk" and expensive, usually jewel-lery, antiques and works of art.

For example, Norwich Union has a £2,000 single-item limit on valuable jewellery. So if a policyholder buys a £3,000 ring as a Christmas present, he or she will pay bigger premiums for full cover against theft. On the other hand, many insurers do not regard popular Christmas gifts such as plasma-screen TVs, camcorders and laptops as high risk, and include these on standard contents policies at no extra cost, regardless of their value.

Of course, you can only sit back and relax if you have enough cover in the first place; many homeowners don't. Research from Sainsbury's Bank reveals that up to 5,000 people suffering break-ins this Christmas will find their claims rebuffed because of inadequate insurance.

"Review your home contents policy if you have a lot of Christmas gifts that are going to stay in the house after the festive period," advises Ray Facer, head of technical services at insurer Legal & General. "Check to see what goods your insurer considers to be high risk, and find out what the single-item limit is."

Thankfully, the onus is not completely on the consumer. Many insurers will, for no extra charge, increase the value of your home contents cover by 10 per cent during the Christmas holiday.

Simple tips to protect your home against burglars include keeping gift-wrapped items and other valuables away from the window and out of sight of prying eyes, says Malcolm Tarling, spokesman for the Association of British Insurers (ABI). Packaging from electrical and other expensive goods left outside your home can also encourage thieves. Make sure you put this in black sacks before leaving it out for the dustmen.

If your home will be empty for several days while you visit friends or family at Christmas, ask neighbours to keep an eye on it, and use timer switches to turn lights on after dark.

Keep your insurer's emergency number by the phone, and don't leave expensive goods in the car when you're out Christmas shopping. Most car insurance policies won't pay out more than £100 in total in the case of theft. With this in mind, you might want to have personal possession cover. Bolted on to your home contents policy, this insures items such as clothes and CDs taken out of the house, up to at least £1,000. More expensive items will need to be named on the policy, and you should expect to pay a higher premium to cover them.

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