Monday 5 December 2016

It would be a crime not to be covered

With the recession fuelling a rise in burglary, avoid falling foul of insurers -- ensure you know your policy conditions, says Louise McBride

Published 28/02/2010 | 05:00

THE recession hasn't just put its hand in your pockets through pay cuts and higher taxes -- it has also pushed up your chances of getting your house burgled.

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Last year, 26,365 properties were broken into across the country -- 9 per cent more than in 2008. In the capital, your chances of being burgled are even higher, particularly in south Dublin, where the number of homes burgled jumped by a fifth over the last year.

And burglaries aren't the only things to fear from recession-bred criminals -- you might also be the victim of car or identity theft. At times like this, it's important not to go without your insurance -- but unless you're careful, your insurer, too, could leave you high and dry.

YOUR HOUSE IS BROKEN INTO

You've just nipped over the road to your local shop to pick up some milk -- only to find your house has been burgled on your return. Though you have a house alarm, you hadn't bothered to turn it on. Brace yourself. Your home insurer may refuse to cover you because your policy stipulates you should have your alarm turned on each time you leave your house.

"The biggest thing people get caught out with when they make a claim for a burglary is their alarm," says Jonathan Hehir, director of the insurance brokers, CFM Group. "If you set up a house insurance policy a few years ago, you may have had an alarm then, but perhaps you haven't maintained it or you didn't hold on to the monitoring service that you had at the time. In cases like this, you must tell your insurer if your alarm isn't working any more or if you no longer have an alarm monitoring service. Otherwise, your insurer could refuse your claim."

If claiming an insurance discount for burglar or smoke alarms, it is usually a condition of your policy that these alarms are maintained and "used effectively". It is worthwhile checking with your insurer when exactly it expects you to have your alarm turned on -- and if there are any warranties on your policy which you must meet.

With Quinn Direct, for example, you may have a warranty that states that your alarm must be in full working order and set at all times "when a responsible adult is not in the home", and that your alarm is inspected and maintained "by an approved company" at least once a year.

Even if you have a working house alarm, make sure you've told your insurer exactly what type of alarm it is. "You'll often get asked by your insurer if your alarm meets a particular standard or is approved by the National Standards Authority of Ireland," says Hehir. "Don't assume your alarm meets those standards when your insurer asks you this."

If you're broken into, and your insurer discovers that you don't have a particular alarm but instead bought and installed an alarm yourself, then your claim could get kicked out."

For example, if the value of the contents insured in your home is more than €70,000, AXA insists that your alarm is fitted to the European standard EN 50131. "In other cases, we may also insist the standard is met and/or the alarm is centrally monitored," said a spokesman for AXA. "If a burglary occurs where we have applied a warranty, then we would refuse to meet a claim where the alarm was not turned on."

Your insurer also expects you to take "reasonable precautions" to secure your home. This could include having a five-lever mortice lock on your front door and locks on downstairs windows, according to Brian McNelis, director of general insurance with the Irish Broker Association. "If your policy states that you must have locks on the ground floor windows, your insurer may turn down your claim if you haven't done so," says McNelis.

With Allianz, for example, you may have a warranty on your policy that states that "all external doors are fitted with mortice deadlocks" and that all downstairs windows are fitted with "key-operated window locks".

Many insurers, including Quinn Direct and Zurich, will not cover you if your house is broken into after it has been left unoccupied for more than 30 days in a row. Similarly, if any part of your home is lent, let or sub-let, you usually won't be covered unless violence or force was used to get in or out of your home.

If you have particularly valuable contents in your home, it may be worth your while insuring those contents separately. Most insurers have a limit on the total value of contents they will cover as well as the value of individual items you can claim for if your house is burgled. Allianz, for example, will not usually pay more than €2,000 to replace or repair a valuable item of jewellery or photographic equipment.

If you have a particularly valuable item of jewellery -- such as one worth more than €10,000 -- your insurer may only cover it if you keep it in a safe when you're not wearing it.

YOUR CAR IS STOLEN

Many people don't realise their home has been broken into until they open the front door and don't see the car which should be sitting in the driveway.

So if your car is stolen by a burglar using keys they found when they broke into your house, can you expect your insurer to cough up for a replacement car?

"If your car is not discovered after the theft, you'll usually get the cost of the market value of the car at the time it was stolen -- less any excess (the first part of a claim you pay for yourself)," says McNelis. If your car is less than one year old, most insurers will replace it with a new one of the same make and model -- as long as the cost of the replacement car isn't more than what you insured your original one for. You may have to wait two to four weeks before your insurer will settle your claim to replace your stolen car with a new one -- insurers often wait this long to see if your car will be discovered.

Even after waiting this time, you could still get caught out by the fine print of your policy. "Say the address on your insurance policy is your parent's address in the country, but you live and work in Dublin, then there could be an issue if the car is stolen in Dublin," says McNelis. "The risk of a car being stolen in Dublin is greater than it is in west Cork."

Most insurers will only cover you for car theft if you've locked your car -- and kept the keys in a safe place. "If your car is stolen when the back door of your home is left open and the car keys are sitting on a table in easy view, an insurer could turn down your claim," says Hehir.

For example, with AXA, you won't be covered for car theft "if the keys are left unsecured or left in or on an unattended car". It's something to remember the next time you leave your car running in the driveway to defrost your windows.

Another condition of many policies is that you must report the theft to the gardai and your insurer immediately.

YOUR IDENTITY IS STOLEN

Recent back-to-work scams advertise cash for working from home. However, after paying an upfront free to the organiser of this "work", you may find out there is either no work or only commission for getting other people to sign up.

Scams like this may also try to entice personal information out of you, such as your bank account details or your PPS number -- information that is then used to get money out of your bank account or claim welfare benefits.

To protect yourself from identity theft, you could take out identity theft insurance, such as that offered by Chartis Direct. This insurance, which covers certain legal fees and travel costs as well as lost wages for time spent dealing with fraud, costs between €15.45 and €37.08 a year. However, you must take "reasonable care" to safeguard your identity.

And it may not cover you for losses if an Israeli murder gang clones your identity to make fake passports either.

Sunday Independent

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