The season for burglars

Nestling among the Christmas cards and bills in this week's mail was a serious-looking letter from the di-rector of the management company responsible for the day-to-day running of the flats in which I live.

"I am sorry to have to report that there have been two burglaries within the last week or so," ran his cheerful message. "I fear now that the building may be targeted by burglars seeking easy pickings in the run-up to Christmas."

This is pretty bad news at any time, but in the season of goodwill it's particularly unwelcome. I'm not worried about piles of carefully wrapped presents under the tree as I'm a member of the leave-everything- to-the-last-minute school. But nobody likes the thought of an uninvited stranger rummaging through their belongings. And as this is the last shopping weekend before Christmas, the sensible among you will probably have already bought almost everything. According to Switch, the average adult (whoever that is) will spend pounds 763 this Christmas. Rich pickings indeed.

But there are ways to ease the pain of burglary. One in four of us has no contents insurance. Yet pre-emptive action is essential and in our feature on contents insurance (see page 12) we compare the best rates around.

As with any type of cover there are big discrepancies in charges from insurer to insurer, so it's well worth checking out the competition - even if you assume that you're already covered for everything. Don't take anything for granted: those Palm Pilots and mobile phones could mean that you exceed your insurance cover.

As for me, top of my Christmas list this year is a solid timber door complete with British Standard five-lever deadlock and hinge bolts. Forget those glamorous presents which magazines tell us every female wants. Clearly they are not aimed at those of us who live on their own in east London.

Breaking cover

At long last the days when mortgage lenders could force home buyers to take out their home insurance along with a loan are numbered. Stephen Byers, the Trade Secretary, ruled last week that the arcane practice must go - excellent news. Now he just needs to look at the other problems which dog mortgages, such as interest calculated on an annual basis.

New faces

The more observant of you may have noticed an unfamiliar face at the top of this column. As this is my first issue as personal finance editor, I'd like to take this opportunity to welcome any comments, queries or criticisms you may have in coming weeks.

We are also looking for volunteers who would be prepared to undergo a financial make-over for our millennium issue. If you'd welcome some advice, please write to me at The Independent on Sunday, 1 Canada Square, Canary Wharf, London E14 5DL.