Lock up your shed!

With the UK having enjoyed a relatively good summer so far, many of us have been spending a lot of time making our garden look its best. In fact, M&S Bank has discovered that 10% of us spend more than 10 hours a week gardening. All those trips to the garden centre for bedding plants and new gizmos can begin to add up, so it is a cause for concern that theft from gardens and garden sheds is big business for the criminal fraternity.

Admittedly there is not much you can do to protect the prize greenery in your front garden from the light-fingered, but you should make sure that your home policy covers this sort of theft. Believe it or not, the average garden contains almost £400 worth of shrubs and trees, so deterrents such as security lighting or a prickly hedge can be worth investing in.

When it comes to garden sheds, however, there is a lot that home owners can do but many don’t. A quarter of us do not always lock it, and indeed a tenth of us admit to never locking it, despite the fact that sheds on average contain almost £600 worth of equipment and a fifth contain over £1,000 worth.

As far as locks are concerned make sure you use the best possible padlock on both sheds and garden gates. Also consider fitting a blind to the windows of your shed so that opportunists are unable to see what goodies lurk within. It may be a nuisance, but move expensive items such as barbecues in to a locked shed or garage when not in use otherwise you may find that they are not insured if they are stolen.

Cambridgeshire Police have some handy tips on shed security.

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How to prevent returning to a disaster

There is nothing guaranteed to erase the memories of a wonderful holiday more than returning home to discover a domestic disaster, be it a burglary or a leak.

Recent statistics courtesy of the AA reveal that around a quarter of us have had this unpleasant experience, with water leakage being the most common (30%) followed by a boiler breakdown (18%) and burglary (15%). Other post-holiday catastrophes included wasps’ nests, electrical faults, smashed windows, vermin infestations and gas leaks.

Apart from the shock of finding that chaos has been reigning whilst you were enjoying yourself on holiday, it can of course also be very costly to put these things right. Whilst you would have noticed a leak starting if you had been at home, the escape of even a slight amount of water can cause untold damage to decor and furniture alike. There is also the possibility of items of sentimental value such as treasured photographs being destroyed.

So what can you do to make such an incident less likely?

  • Leave a key with a trusted neighbour and ask them to keep an eye on your property. Hopefully they would notice leaks and the like, and getting them to draw curtains or pick up post can keep the burglars at bay too. Leave your contact details with them in case of a major emergency.
  • Check all windows and doors before leaving home.
  • Turn all electrical appliances off.
  • Turn the boiler off.
  • Turn off your water supply at the stopcock.
  • Don’t encourage mice and rats by leaving food lying around.

Finally, check your home policy to see whether you are covered for this type of incident (often called Home Emergency Cover).

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Sticker scams increasing home insurance prices

Organised gangs are working harder than ever to find creative methods of burglary.

Despite UK burglary rates dropping by around 35% in the last ten years, newer, more convoluted efforts are being made by burglars to enter homes undetected. The most recently reported burglary scheme has been dubbed the ‘Sticker Scam’, and is said to be partially responsible for rising home insurance prices.

Previously, burglars were mainly considered to be opportunists who preyed on less secure houses. Those with open windows, insecure fencing, and lacking burglar alarms were seen to be easy targets for the opportunist burglar.

However, over the last few years, affordable and effective security measures have been invented, and marketed to the average wage earner. This means the majority of houses in England and Wales are now far better protected than in 1993, the peak of burglary figures in the last 20 years. Despite this, burglary hasn’t subsided entirely, largely due to sophisticated burglary syndicates creating elaborate plots to target houses.

In Wandsworth, London, the ‘Sticker Scam’ has become a high profile case with a great deal of media attention. Burglary gangs are sending out scouts prior to a burglary, to find homes which are considered easy targets due to lax security measures. By placing stickers which advertise a fake locksmith service, burglars can later identify the best houses from which to steal.

Wandsworth Council’s crime prevention spokesman, Councillor Jonathan Cook, has released a statement “urging local residents to keep a very close eye out for these stickers and if they find one to remove it straight away” and to “beef up their home security”.

According to the Telegraph, large insurance companies have been warned of these scams. Due to statements released by both police and claims experts, prices of home insurance seem to have increased within these particular areas. According to Ian Crowder of AA Insurance, burglaries such as these can increase insurance premiums by up to 10 percent within that local area. This is due to an intensification of risk factors, with the likelihood of a claim being paid out. Esure have also warned that premiums can double in this very circumstance.

With all this said, insurance companies are issuing warnings to be on the lookout for local burglary activity. Darren Hull, household manager at Direct Line, specifically urges people to be on the lookout for new ‘flyer-droppers’, explaining that when placing a flyer through the door, scouts can lean on the door to assess the lock situation.

With increased media coverage of this particular scam, it seems that the message from both insurers and police officials is to increase security measures and ensure a high level of vigilance within your neighbourhood.

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Number of burglaries down but value of loss goes up

There has been a drop in the number of burglary claims recently but the bad news is that the average value of a burglar’s haul has increased by a whopping 40% in the last three years.

This is largely down to the rise in the number of high-value portable gadgets which we have in our homes. Whereas burglars used to stagger out to their getaway vehicles with televisions and hi-fis, nowadays a burglar can fill a rucksack with laptops, iPods, tablets and smartphones, safe in the knowledge that his ill-gotten gains are not going to give him a hernia but will be easy to sell on.

Research carried out by insurer Zurich shows that 74% of us worry about being burgled but few of us follow through by taking precautions to safeguard our valuables, even our laptops, which 40% of us say would have the worst impact on us, were they to be stolen. Close behind is the mobile phone which 32% of us say would have the biggest impact.

Only 55% of us have spent money on securing our homes in the last year and many of that 55% have spent under a hundred pounds on security measures.

Even if you don’t feel you have money to spare installing expensive systems there are many common-sense precautions which you can take to make a burglar’s life more difficult.

  • Hide expensive easily portable gadgets when you are out. If that seems too much bother, at least ensure that they are out of sight of prowlers.
  • Always double-lock your doors and use window locks too.
  • Store your luggage in the loft so that burglars cannot use your suitcases to transport their haul.
  • Keep tools locked up so that they are not able to be used by burglars to break in.
  • Do not leave keys where burglars can see them.

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Moving soon – are your belongings covered?

As the housing market starts to recover, more and more of us are hoping to move soon. Are your belongings covered on moving day though, and what else should you be thinking about in the run-up to the big day?

Advice from Gocompare.com shows that it is important to read the small print on your home insurance policy.

Moving home is a very expensive business and by the time you have budgeted for paying the estate agents’ commission, stamp duty, surveyors’ fees and the conveyancing costs, it is tempting to try to minimise the cost of the actual removal. Some of us rope in a few friends and hire a van for a DIY removal whilst others opt for a firm of professional movers but undertake to do all the packing themselves to reduce the price.

Although 90% of the 300 home insurance policies looked at by Gocompare either cover belongings on removal day as standard or at least provide it as an optional extra, this very often only applies if you are using a professional removals firm. What’s even more worrying is that breakables such as china and glasses need to have been professionally packed to be covered.

Valuables such as cash and jewellery are often excluded so it is worth making alternative arrangements for the safe keeping of such items on moving day.

If you are using storage facilities make sure you are adequately insured as some policies restrict the number of days whilst others offer no cover at all.

Finally if you have splashed out on new items of furniture or electrical goods for the new house make sure you re-think the limit of your cover and communicate with your insurers as necessary.

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Have you been too busy enjoying Freshers’ Week to sort out insurance?

The start of the university year is an exciting time and it is all too easy to throw yourself in to Freshers’ Week with gusto and never actually get round to dealing with the boring stuff like insurance.

It is never too late to put this right so take some time out of your social whirl (or late-night sessions at the library) and read on for advice on how to make sure you have the right cover.

If you are in a hall of residence you may find that contents insurance is included in your rent. However, it is worth having a look at the small print and making sure that the cover is sufficient. Likewise, you may have felt secure knowing that your parents have extended their home policy to include cover for you while you are at university but you still need to look at the details.

Things to look out for are:

  • Are items such as gadgets, musical instruments and bikes included? These are all easy pickings for thieves and replacing them could make a huge hole in your budget.
  • Do you have cover for accidental damage? One drunken stumble or a party that gets out of hand can cause havoc.
  • Is cover for theft excluded if there is no sign of forced entry? If you are unlucky enough to have a light-fingered housemate or even a forgetful one who leaves the window wide open, you don’t want to find that you are uninsured.
  • Is there a requirement on the policy for a lock to be fitted to individual bedroom doors if you share a house? If so, is this feasible to organise?
  • You may well be covered “up to” a certain amount (typically £5,000) but is there a much smaller limit per item? If laptop cover is capped at a few hundred pounds you could be left out of pocket having to replace your Mac.
  • If you are relying on your parents’ policy, what is the excess and would they be happy to lose their No Claims Discount if you have to make a claim?

Finally, once you have found the right policy it is worth paying upfront if possible. Monthly payments can be tempting but usually work out more expensive.

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Burglaries will rise as clocks go back

Not many of us are looking forward to the clocks going back next weekend but one group of people who will welcome the dark evenings is the criminal fraternity. Life becomes a lot easier for the average burglar when they can operate under cover of darkness.

According to data provided by Halifax Home Insurance, the cost of winter claims for burglaries last year (£13 million) was 21% higher than in the summer period.

Although a good home insurance policy will minimise your financial loss if you are burgled, there are some items of sentimental value which are irreplaceable to say nothing of the effect on one’s emotional well-being.

The good news is that there are a number of precautions which can be taken to minimise one’s chances of being burgled:

  • Make sure you have the best possible locks on doors and windows
  • Fit security lights so that you are alerted to anyone approaching your house
  • Likewise gravel on the driveway will mean that you are aware of callers
  • Don’t bother with dummy alarms as burglars can spot the fakes
  • Fit a cage on the inside of your letter box to prevent a burglar “fishing” for your door and car keys
  • Do not leave tools or ladders lying around as this could help a burglar break into your home
  • Prickly shrubs near windows and side gates can make a burglar’s life more difficult
  • If going on holiday, set timers for lights and ask a neighbour to remove the post each day

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Students advised to insure belongings

With A level results having come out last week, the thoughts of many youngsters have turned to what lies ahead of them at university. There is of course the excitement of Freshers’ Week and possibly apprehension at the thought of having to do their own washing but how many have paused to wonder whether their belongings will be insured once they fly away from the nest?

The average student will have possessions worth around £1700 with them in their student accommodation and, sadly, one in three students will be a victim of crime, many of the crimes happening at the start of term when there are umpteen distractions.

The good news is that many home insurance policies will provide automatic cover for children’s belongings whilst they are at university (whether they are living on campus or in a shared student house) provided they live at home during the holidays. This cover will normally apply not only to theft but also to flood, fire, storm and malicious damage. The caveat is that theft cover will only apply if there is a physical break-in, so leaving your room unlocked while you nip next door to chat to a friend or throwing a party and leaving valuables lying around is not a great idea.

Of course not all belongings which students take with them to uni stay in their accommodation. Items carried around with them, such as laptops, mobile phones, tablets and iPods may not be covered automatically so it is important to check the wording of the policy carefully before making assumptions. As far as bikes go, some policies will cover them as standard whilst others will require the payment of a further small premium.

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1 in 5 households hit by garden thefts or vandalism

Not many of us would dream of leaving our houses unlocked and vulnerable to burglary or vandalism, and yet very few of us take the same sort of precautions to guard our gardens.

Gocompare.com has recently found that one in five of us have fallen prey to garden theft or vandalism and, with gardening centres doing big business these days, the cost of replacement can be substantial.

If disaster struck, would you be covered by your home contents insurance policy?

Most policies provide limited cover for items left out in the open such as barbecues and furniture, but this is often restricted to between £500 and £1,000. With more and more stylish garden furniture becoming the norm, and barbecues often costing several hundred pounds, this cover is unlikely to recompense you fully.

Trees and shrubs also provide rich pickings for thieves, and less than half of home policies provide cover for this as standard. Even if you have a policy that does cover plants, it could be restricted to a couple of hundred pounds which won’t go very far. Not all policies allow you to add cover for plants as an optional extra, so before you splash out on tubs and hanging baskets (both easy for the garden thief to steal) have a look at your home contents policy.

Whilst many items in the garden cannot be locked away, it obviously makes sense to lock up garden tools, lawnmowers, bikes, etc. Items which have to be left outdoors, such as furniture, ornaments and barbecues should have your postcode written on them with a security pen. If you have any particularly expensive items, such as a bronze figurine, you should consider taking out a bespoke policy.

Perhaps the best defence for those with green fingers is to plant prickly shrubs, such as pyracantha, which should deter opportunistic thieves!

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Which? highlights concerns behind home insurance claim rejections

Which? recently carried out a survey looking into the main reasons behind the rejection of home insurance claim. It found that one in ten customers who had made a claim on insurance over the past two years had had their claim either fully or partially rejected.

Which? surveyed 4,800 of its readers in total, for both home and car insurance, and asked them about any claims that they had made and the reasons they had been given for rejections.

It found that there are a number of areas that cause problems for customers trying to make a claim, and that these often relate to a lack of clarity in the small print.

For example, all of the home insurance policies that Which? studied required the customer to maintain the property in a good condition, but did not go into details about this. One customer told Which? that their claim had been refused for failing to re-grout tiles in the bathroom each year, which seems to be taking things to extremes.

Claims surrounding lost and damaged items also caused problems. To make a claim, customers often need to prove that they are the owner of the item, which is reasonable. However, Which? found that some people could not claim for the contents of their freezers because they could not show receipts.

This research goes to show that making claims on a home insurance policy can sometimes lead to unexpected and, in some cases, unreasonable rejections. It’s therefore a good idea always to read through the small print very carefully and ask your insurer if you are unsure about the specific details of your policy.

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