We're fearful of crime but the door is left wide open

As recession hits, poor security could invalidate your insurance
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The Independent Online

Crime rates rise during recessions – a problem acknowledged in government circles last month when, in a draft letter to 10 Downing Street, officials from the Home Office warned of a new wave of "acquisitive crime" such as car theft and burglary as the economy went from bad to worse.

So with the economic storm clouds gathering, Britons feel vulnerable. According to the findings of a survey commissioned by Allianz Insurance, almost three-quarters of people feel they are more likely to be the victim of some form of property crime – such as burglary, car theft and vandalism – as a direct result of the credit crunch and rising unemployment.

The research reveals that one in four people now feel unsafe in their home at night and one in 10 have moved because they felt so insecure in their old property. However, 56 per cent of respondents also admitted that they have no security lights outside, and almost half that they do not have decent door and window locks. Meanwhile, 57 per cent do not ask neighbours to keep an eye on their home when they go away.

Mark Bishop from Allianz Insurance says: "When there are serious economic difficulties, social problems such as theft, vandalism and arson become more marked. During periods of significant individual financial strain and rises in unemployment, it is even more important to take crime prevention seriously.

"There is much more people can do to improve the level of security in and around their homes."

Having – and, crucially, using – good- quality window locks and effective burglar alarms at home, and steering wheel immobilisers in your car, for example, will act as a deterrent and can make your insurance premiums a little more manageable.

Overall, car and home contents insurance may not make you feel any better about losing your possessions, but these policies can make the recovery process much easier. And ensuring you take the best precautions can mean your premiums come down, as well as giving you a much greater chance that your claim will be paid out quickly and smoothly when you need the money most.

But once you have your policy in place, your security measures must be maintained if you expect to see your claim accepted should the worst happen. Installing a burglar alarm, for example, could reduce your premiums as part of an improvement in your overall home security, but if you apply for home insurance and tell the company you have an alarm, it must be kept in good working order. If a burglary takes place while the alarm is out of action, you will probably find that you aren't covered.

In addition, if you state on your application form that the property will only be unoccupied for two weeks a year when you take your annual holiday, and you then end up going away for a month, your insurer will be perfectly entitled to refuse your claim.

Should you be required to do something under the insurance policy contract, you really must do it. And that can come down to the make of the lock or alarm. If you fit new locks, the insurer may require that they meet the BSI British Standard. Fail to take heed of such instructions – which may be buried away in the small print of your policy document – and you may have a claim refused.

Out of the home and on to the road, there are discounts available on car insurance for people who take extra precautions – but it's crucial for policyholders to fulfil their side of the bargain. Figures from comparison website Comparethemarket.com show that storing your car in a garage could save an average of £26 a year on your motor insurance premium. But if the vehicle is broken into or stolen while it's parked on the street outside your home, you won't be covered.

"If you tell your insurance firm that you have various security facilities in place, they expect you to use them," says Peter Gerrard of price comparison website Moneysupermarket.com. "Insurers are under tremendous pressure to keep the cost of premiums low because of the competition out there. This means they are very strict about the details of the claim.

"Make sure you are open and honest about the security of your home, car and possessions when you apply for a policy, because insurers are well within their rights to refuse your claim if the situation is not what they agreed to insure," he adds.

And be careful not to drop your guard by failing to take proper everyday precautions. Just a moment's lapse of judgement can cost you dear: "Even leaving your keys in the ignition while you get petrol, or while deicing, can mean your policy is void," warns Malcolm Tarling from the Association of British Insurers.

He cites the example of a gang of car thieves who targeted an affluent part of Birmingham last winter. They specialised in stealing expensive cars that were left running by their owners. Subsequently, the victims found they had real problems claiming the money from their insurance policies.

Finally, many policyholders forget that their home insurance or car cover is not a maintenance policy – it protects against specific events. Most policies include a "not taking reasonable care" clause, which not only includes the customer wandering off with the front door open or the keys in the ignition, but also the upkeep of their home and car. As Mr Tarling explains: "If your tiles fall off because they are old and need replacing, your insurance policy will not cover it."

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