Rest easy with your contents insurance

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As well as security measures there are a number of other ways of keeping down the costs of your home insurance.

Competition has increased among insurers in recent years and shopping around - instead of simply renewing with the same company - could save you hundreds of pounds.

This month's Which? magazine includes a report on how to keep costs down and lists a number of best buys.

Here are its tips:

Beware of trying to cut costs by insuring for less than the full value of your contents. If you do, your insurer may scale down the amount of a claim, even if you're claiming for less than the total amount insured.

Check for unnecessary cover; you may have more insurance than you need. For example, some policies are bedroom rated - premiums are set according to how many bedrooms you have rather than the total value of your contents. Bedroom-rated policies usually have a limit on the total value of any claim, but this may be higher than your possessions warrant. In this case you may be better off going for a policy where premiums are set by the total value of your contents instead. Equally, though, a bedroom- rated policy may be a way for some people to get ample insurance for their needs for a lower premium.

Accidental damage cover may be less necessary for those without small children, and cutting it out of your policy should bring down the premium.

Having all-risks personal possessions cover, so that items like bikes and cameras are insured when away from home, can be cheaper than insuring these items separately. But most travel insurance policies will also cover cameras, for example, so paying the extra all-risks premium may be an unnecessary expense.

Don't assume that any insurance offered by your mortgage lender is a good deal simply because you have your mortgage with them; many of these policies are poor value. Which? gives the example of someone paying pounds 664.86 for a bedroom-rated policy from the TSB; Bank of Scotland would charge just pounds 202.80. Unless you have a special mortgage deal that requires you to take out a policy from the same lender, there will not normally be any cancellation cost for switching to another company.

With most policies you pay the first pounds 50 of any claim - the excess. But if you agree a higher excess you can pay a lower premium. Increasing your excess to pounds 100 might give you a discount of 5 to 10 per cent.

As with car insurance, some insurers will also offer no-claims discounts for home contents policies. Some insurers give you a discount if you transfer to them and you have a claims-free record.

Being old can help. Some insurers offer discounts of up to 50 per cent to older people, typically those 55 or more. Which? names Age Concern, the charity, as a specialist in this market; another is Saga Services (0800 708 088). Some insurers will also increase premiums for younger people (under 30s, say)

You may be offered cheaper insurance if you are in a professional body or have a certain job.

The table above gives details of the Which? "best buys", including the range of discounts available. The degree to which you can benefit from more than one of the discounts on offer ranges from insurer to insurer, but in some cases you could qualify for as much as, say, 50 per cent off normal premium rates.

But however many discounts you might qualify for, remember that what's important is the underlying price and features of the policy, and whether the insurer deals with your claim efficiently and sympathetically.

Last year Which? surveyed its readers for their experience of making claims on home insurance. For claims handling, an insurer called Landmark came out best, General Accident was worst. On speed of settling claims, Landmark, Prudential and Zurich were best, and Norwich Union was the worst.

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