Free as a bird, but your nest is unprotected

Most people who rent don't insure their possessions. Sam Dunn sees how tenants can take cover against theft
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The Independent Online

If you're reading this while living in a rented flat or house, there's a strong chance your belongings won't be insured. Two-thirds of tenants have not taken out cover for their valuables, research from insurer More Th>n has shown.

If you're reading this while living in a rented flat or house, there's a strong chance your belongings won't be insured. Two-thirds of tenants have not taken out cover for their valuables, research from insurer More Th>n has shown.

Homeowners, on the other hand, are far more likely to have contents cover: 90 per cent are insured, says More Th>n.

Those who don't have cover are running a big risk: one million homes in the UK - one in 25 of all dwellings - were broken into last year, according to insurer Churchill.

And the financial loss could be huge. You might not think you have much worth insuring, but when you tot up the cost of replacing your possessions, you could be surprised to discover just how much it comes to.

"Tenants generally don't buy insurance; they'll wait until they buy a home," says Claire Gooderham of Norwich Union, another provider of home contents cover. "But if you think about all the suits, electrical goods and DVDs you have, for example, it all adds up."

Clare Bowes, 27, is looking for a home contents policy after a recent break-in at her London flat. She wasn't insured at the time. "Thankfully, nothing was taken," she says, "but it promp-ted me to look at exactly what was in the flat. I worked out that with CDs, clothes, the TV and stereo, my possessions were probably worth about £4,000."

It isn't entirely their own fault that many tenants don't take out contents insurance (buildings insurance remains the landlord's responsibility). The nature of renting, and the risks associated with it, can make it difficult to find cover.

Insurers weigh up these risks in different ways, depending on whether you are sharing your accommodation with a friend, a landlord or landlady, a colleague or with strangers you came across via a newspaper ad.

For example, five young professionals renting a large house together - a common scenario in big cities where house prices are high - won't find it easy to get contents cover, either individually or for the property as a whole. A relatively large number of different people entering and leaving the property presents a higher risk of loss and damage to valuables, Ms Gooderham says.

Neither Direct Line nor Norwich Union will provide insurance in the above case. More Th>n will consider you if you live with up to five other people - but no more. Even if you're looking to rent a flat with just one close friend, you won't find insurers rushing to offer you a cheap quote.

If you're in a relationship, however, the situation is different. Renting with a partner, whether you're married or not, is viewed much more favour-ably by insurers. Your domestic arrangement is seen as more stable, says John Hollis of More Th>n, and joint ownership of goods makes you less of a risk.

More Th>n will pay out for accidental damage to a carpet if you're a married couple renting a property, but not if you live in a house with four others.

If you can find someone to cover you, the cost of annual cover is modest compared with picking up the bill if you are burgled while uninsured. According to the AA's quarterly premium index, the average annual home contents insurance policy costs £152.76. But there are huge savings to be made by shopping around. The average cost based on the three lowest quotes found by the AA was £88.23.

You can also keep costs down by building up no-claims bonuses for each year in which you don't make a claim on your insurance policy.

It will also pay to move in with a partner, since you can share the cost of a joint policy - although only the most unromantic would suggest co-habiting merely to save on insurance.

If you're a student, you may not need insurance at all, as you could be covered by your parents' home contents policy. But don't just assume this is the case; check the small print or contact the insurer for confirmation.

Direct Line will insure up to £5,000 worth of a student's goods - enough cover for most - under its standard policy for no extra cost. But parents must make it clear on the policy document that they require this cover; otherwise, they may run into difficulties if they have to make a claim.

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