Turn your home into an electronic castle

Coming home to find your property burgled is a living nightmare. So it is vital to arrange tight security. Failing to do so could be costly and morale-sapping
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The Independent Online
Coming home to find your home burgled is a devastating experience. Dealing with the psychological effects of this type of criminal violation can be a long and difficult process.

Coming home to find your home burgled is a devastating experience. Dealing with the psychological effects of this type of criminal violation can be a long and difficult process.

Even for those with home contents insurance who are spared financial loss, it makes sense to try and stop the crime actually taking place. And tightening up your home security could cut the cost of household cover.

Direct Line, for example, gives customers a 17.5 per cent discount on their premiums if they have taken three specified home security measures.

This breaks down into a 10 per cent reduction for those with an alarm system installed by a member of NACOSS (The National Approval Council for Security Systems), or a 7.5 per cent reduction if the alarm system comes from a non-specified provider.

Customers can have a 5 per cent discount if they have acceptable door and window locks and a further 2.5 per cent cut if they belong to a police-recognised Neighbourhood Watch scheme.

"Our expectation is that people will take reasonable care of their property," says Arthur Radley, head of general insurance underwriting at Prudential. "However, we will discount the standard contents insurance premium if customers have what we call a minimum level of security."

The Prudential's discount varies from 5-15 per cent, depending on the area, with the highest risk areas receiving the highest discount, he says. But some urban areas are saddled with the company's highest risk rating, and Prudential will only take on new risks in these areas if the customer can comply with the minimum security level, says Mr Radley.

Peter Wright of insurance brokers Berry, Birch & Noble says: "Most insurers, if you live in a certain postcode such as the middle of London or Liverpool, say you must have five-lever mortice locks on doors and locks on all accessible windows as a minimum."

The reward becomes positive only if you live on the outskirts of a city or in the countryside, when there is usually no minimum security requirement and customers are instead offered a discount if they meet these standards. Prudential says if a security locks discount is shown on your policy, then the doors, ground-floor and other accessible windows of your home must be fitted with the types of lock it specifies, and the final exit door fitted with a deadlock or rimlock approved to BS3621 or a lock of an equal or better quality. All keys must be removed from locks.

Customers who have a burglar alarm fitted can receive an extra discount of 2.5 per cent, but must have the other security measures too.

Will your premiums shoot up if your home is robbed? If you stay with your insurer, your contents insurance premiums are not likely to increase. Though your insurer may require you to take precautions against a recurrence. "Normally we'd send someone out and advise on measure you should take to reduce the chances (of another break-in)," says Gill Murphy of Direct Line.

But if you want to switch insurers after a burglary you could face problems. Direct Line says in some cases it might not offer insurance cover to people who have had their current home broken into.

The cost of home contents insurance varies according to the area you live in and its record for burglaries. For example, a homeowner living in London NW1 could expect to pay more than £300 a year in household insurance premiums, to cover £30,000 of goods. However, someone living in the south Gloucestershire countryside might pay just £90 for the same cover.

How do most burglaries occur? Police report that many break-ins happen mid-afternoon when people are at work, or in winter, at around 5pm just before office workers have returned, targeting houses with no inside lights on. Criminals can often tell from the front of the house whether there is anyone there, then go to the back to get in. Visible deterrents are best, with extra locks on the front door particularly effective. If you have two locks on your front door and your neighbour has just one, then you may be spared a robbery.

Security lighting can keep thieves away, but police say lights which automatically come on in the back garden may do nothing but illuminate the burglar's path if there is no one around to notice the light being activated.

Security alarms are effective deterrents if they are monitored ­ prices vary widely depending on the size and sophistication of the system needed. Home security firm ADT, for example, says its maintained alarm systems cost from £299, with a monthly fee for full service cover. Some firms will install alarm systems free, making their money from the monthly maintenance fee.

If you are considering having an alarm or new locks fitted, check with your insurer to see whether you can get a discount on the costs through certain suppliers. Many of them have links with alarm providers and locksmiths.

What happens if your home is burgled after you have forgotten to activate your alarm system? Before you sign up for contents insurance, it is worth finding out what the firm's policy is on such claims. Some insurers would simply require you to pay a higher excess, but others may dispute the claim.

Burglaries seem thankfully to be dwindling, according to the insurance industry.

"The rate of theft claims has been dropping over the last few years," says Mr Radley. "This is possibly because there is a greater awareness of the measures that can be taken to avoid being burgled, with encouragement from organisations such as insurers, and also quite possibly because it is a popular notion that theft tends to be higher in times of recession."

Berry Birch & Noble: 0800 854074

Peoples' Choice (insurance broker): 0800 112233

Swinton (insurance broker): 0800 600 700

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