Conal Gregory: Take cover as thieves could be out to spoil the festive season

Your home is probably your most expensive investment. Its contents is personal and may contain heirlooms of sentimental value way beyond their market cost. Yet are you protecting those belongings sufficiently?

Children unwrapping their Christmas presents. Pic: PA Photo/thinkstockphotos.

This is the peak time for theft. Home insurance providers warn consumers to be vigilant.

Prior to Christmas, gifts were probably placed under the tree and are now unwrapped but in view and not put away, all the easier for a thief to select.

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From jewellery to handbags, cameras to laptops, the range of upmarket and highly resaleable goods is immense.

Crime reports reveal that it is not just under the blanket of darkness that burglars strike. The highest number of incidents occurred around noon on Christmas Eve last year.

A relatively new risk results from social media with one in 12 homeowners reported a theft after posting holiday information, according to the interiors company, Hillarys.

Celebrities may like to know that Hello! magazine has more subscriptions than any other in prison whilst BBC TV’s Antiques Roadshow is the most popular television programme for inmates.

To deter thieves, set lights to come on when you are away, grow prickly bushes (like blackthorn) close to outside walls and fit deadlocks to windows and external doors.

Consider a custom-made front door with a fingerproof scanner and perhaps facial recognition. Fit laminated glass that will still hold in place if shattered.

To ensure that possessions are properly insured, a good new year resolution is to make as comprehensive a list as possible with dimensions where appropriate. Record serial numbers, makes and detailed information for such articles as cameras and silver. List hallmarks for the latter.

Back this data up by creating a visual inventory. Buzzvault, underwritten by Great Lakes Insurance, claims to be the only home insurance provider to use cutting-edge video technology. It stores each customer’s information in a digital vault which can be updated at any time via an app.

A video or photographs will also serve as proof of ownership up to a certain amount – typically £5,000 value – in the event of any claim.

For valuables, give a brief description including shape and colour, state what materials were used (such as brass or wood) with dimensions and record any inscriptions (like a dedication in a book or signature by an artist). List any defects or damage.

It is important to keep values up to date.

Most insurers expect a fresh valuation every five years and this should be undertaken by a recognised authority, such as a member of The British Antique Dealers’ Association or a leading auctioneer who has the breadth of knowledge and experience.

Where values are moving speedily, values need to be updated more frequently. Modern art – notably Bacon and Hockney – and fine spirits (notably limited bottling of single malt Scotch) should be reassessed every six months for insurance purposes.

Keep a copy of the detailed valuation with visual evidence away from your home so that it is not lost or stolen. Ask if there is a discount for placing jewellery in a safe but ensure it comes with the right specification and is bolted to the ground.

Installing an alarm system which is linked to a recognised monitoring station will also bring a premium reduction but, above a certain sum, may be an insurance requirement.

It is estimated that collectibles worth £222bn have been consigned to the attic. Direct Line – which owns Leeds-based UK Insurance – calculates that at least one such item worth over £500 is owned by two out of three adults.

The insured ‘value’ should be for the full replacement cost and not related either to the original price or a bargain rate that happened to have been found. In the event of loss, it should be the correct sum to enable the article to be secured in the same condition.

Watch for the way that an insurer would handle a claim for a lost or damaged item when it formed one of a matching pair, such as antique vases.

An identical pair is worth considerably more than two similar individual items. Some may give the choice between a cash settlement or obtaining a replacement.

Many budget insurers insist they replace articles where a claim has been established as they can buy at more competitive wholesale rates. This may be fine with pedestrian objects but someone loosing jewellery may prefer to make the selection and might even wish to add money to have a more valuable asset.

People renting appear to have difficulties with contents insurance. Aviva says that 66 per cent have no cover and that an estimated 2.5m use loans or credit cards to repair or replace articles.

Those sharing accommodation with non-relatives pay higher premiums as they are judged to be at greater risk. Last month Halifax announced a new policy which can be taken out on a monthly basis and protects items up to £10,000 for those who are renting.

Urban Jungle has a £5 monthly premium for the same sum insured but also a policy for £7 for two people with £20,000 contents. One factor to consider is the value which can be taken outside the home and if there is any restriction as to the form that takes.

It may be cheaper to use this method when going away on holiday rather than to rely on this element within a travel policy.

If the renewal premium is higher than expected, enquire if there is any mistake with the information held by the Claims and Underwriting Exchange.

This records incidents reported that involve contents, motor and personal injury and is funded by insurers to compare data.

However, it can mean that a simple enquiry about whether something is insured will be placed on record even if no payment or subsequent action has been taken.

Recognition of the number and value of gadgets in a home is a new development as well as protection for victims of online fraud.

Accidental damage to a television has been standard for some time but has now been extended to games consoles, laptops and the like.

Covea through John Lewis will pay up to £50,000 for cyber cover loss, known as push-payment fraud, where customers are tricked into authorising money to be paid into another account.

Dual policies that cover both contents and buildings are popular but are unlikely to provide sufficient value for anyone with better belongings.

Sainsbury’s Bank, for instance, uses a panel of insurers but its policy has a low £2,000 single item limit within an overall £75,000 contents cover.

Conal Gregory is AIC Regional Journalist of the Year.