Sleigh Bells or Alarm Bells

"'Twas the night before Christmas, when all through the house
Not a creature was stirring, not even a mouse…"

So starts the well-known Christmas mantra but for many it won't ring true this Christmas. Not only is the great man visiting homes on Christmas Eve, there are countless others planning to do the same: not to deliver presents, but take yours away, so they can enjoy the festive season at your expense.

Although reported burglaries in England and Wales are pretty static, with around 729,000 burglaries reported both last year and the year before*, the Christmas period is a peak time for break-ins. Insurance statistics show that throughout the UK average domestic burglary claim over the fourth quarter of 2007 was £1,129 compared with £978 over the rest of the year**.

And that's quite apart from the considerable distress that a break-in causes. Many people find it difficult to cope with the idea that a stranger has been going through their possessions, never mind having to explain to upset youngsters why there are no Christmas presents.

Top tips to deter festive felons

So what can you do to protect your home?

  1. Make sure your insurance cover is up-to-date.

    Make sure your contents cover includes possessions outside your home, so if you’re away, not only your personal possessions but the family gifts you are bearing will be covered too.

    Remember that AA Insurance increases contents cover by a generous 20% of the total sum insured over the festive season which should be more than enough to cover the loss of presents piled under the Christmas tree should the worst happen.

  2. Protect your identity.

    It's not just high-value goods that go missing – while burglars go for obvious things such as bikes, jewellery, computers (especially laptops), HD TVs and other electronic goods they will go for your very identity, too.

    Passports, credit card bills and bank statements provide valuable data that can be used by criminals – cleaning out your bank accounts, running up huge debts, taking out loans and giving you a bad credit rating in the process.

    • Buy a shredder – and use it.
    • Only keep papers that are vital.
    • Store your passport and other papers in a small safe – they are not expensive to buy.
  3. Keep your jewellery locked away.

    Be especially careful if it has a higher sentimental than cash value.

  4. Photograph your valuables and make a note of identifying features.

    Keeping a note of unique information, such as hallmarks and serial numbers will help when you come to make an insurance claim. And it might help Police catch the thieves if your possessions change hands at the local car-boot, for instance.

  5. Review the security of your home.
    • Include your your shed and your garage.
    • Check your locks

      Insurance companies may insist that the main exit door, usually the front door, is equipped with a BS 3621 five-lever mortise dead-lock. A skilled burglar can ‘slip’ open a conventional 'Yale'-type lock in half a second yet more than half of UK homes rely on such locks, according to the British Crime Survey.

    • Be security conscious even if you're just popping out for a short while.

      AA Insurance research shows that that a third of us don’t bother to lock the door if 'popping out to the shops or next door'. Decent locks on doors are a must but they are useless if you don't use them. You're likely to get a cool reception from your insurer if a burglar slipped through the unlocked door while you were putting the world to rights with your next-door neighbour.

    • If you're fitting an alarm, look for NACOSS (National Approval Council for Security Systems) approved devices.

      Look around at your neighbouring houses – if yours is the odd one without an alarm, you can be sure that burglars are looking for the easy options!

    • Another inexpensive idea is to fit security lights at the front and back of your home.

      A sensor detects movement and while the odd passing cat or fox might light up the garden, an opportunist burglar will be put off. If you're a member of a local Neighbourhood Watch scheme that too will further discourage burglars – and get you an insurance premium discount to boot.

  6. Watch out for 'distraction' burglars.

    Increasingly burglars gain entry by claiming to be a meter reader or other plausible reason. While you are distracted by keeping an eye on them an accomplice slips in unnoticed. Always ask for verifiable identity and check it out – a genuine caller won't mind you doing that.

Fortunately, the trend for burglaries is downwards and you'll be unlucky to suffer one. But it doesn't take much to tighten security and reduce the risk even more. We wish you a happy and secure Christmas.


* 2007/8 British Crime Survey, Home Office statistics.

** Association of British Insurers statistics.