Your Questions: I am going on a long holiday, so how do I secure my home?
Q: I am going away on an extended trip and want to prepare my house in Cork city for the four weeks to make sure it is safe. I have family locally who will check in on it, but besides the basics, are there any obvious pitfalls that I can avoid?
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A: The good news is the instances of burglaries are declining – from 19,182 in 2017 to 16,969 in 2018.
But those figures also show that burglaries still happen, so you are right to be taking the necessary precautions, according to Deirdre McCarthy of InsureMyHouse.ie.
Having people you trust to check the house regularly is important, but you should avoid leaving spare keys outside if possible.
Not only are thieves aware of the practice, but doing so could invalidate a claim with your insurer.
If you already have an alarm, make sure it is in working order, with clear instructions for use for anyone who might be going in and out of your home. Certain insurers offer discounts on home insurance premiums for homes that are alarmed.
If the alarm is not activated then your insurer might query your burglary claim if you were to make one.
Before you leave, Ms McCarthy says it is advisable to check the locks on windows for damage, and check that all small bathroom windows close and lock, as these can often mistakenly be discounted as a risk for entry.
The first place that most intruders will check for valuables is the bedroom, so if you have expensive jewellery, it might be worth investing in a small safe.
Otherwise, put valuables somewhere unusual like the kitchen or bathroom in an inconspicuous container. It is worth doing an inventory of your most valuable possessions and taking photos. Should you fall victim to a burglary, this will make the claims process easier.
Q: I am due a pay rise at work in the summer. My manager has confirmed that I will get a 10pc rise. I am 48, and we have a small mortgage and some savings. I want to use this extra cash wisely. At the moment, our household budget works well, so I don’t just want this extra cash assimilated into that and spent on things that are not needed. I am thinking of putting a little extra into my pension. I already contribute 5pc into my work pension scheme and my employer matches it. But I don’t really want my employer to know that I am putting the pay rise into my pension. Is there any way around this?
A: Essentially, what you are looking to do is make some additional voluntary contributions (AVCs) to your pension.
This is a financially savvy move, according to the chief executive of the Irish Association of Pension Funds Jerry Moriarty.
You are not currently using the maximum contribution tax relief available to you (25pc of your salary), so further contributions will prove tax-efficient. Your predicament around your employer is understandable.
However, the only way around this is to set up your own personal retirement savings account (PRSA) AVC.
The upsides are privacy and greater investment options, and flexibility.
But the downside is that you will likely be paying higher charges than those in your group scheme.
Before you can make a fully informed decision, you should check whether or not your employer would match higher contributions.
As many now do so, you would miss out on those if you went down the PRSA route. You also won’t get tax relief directly through a PRSA, as the contributions won’t be deducted via the payroll system. You should take financial advice, Mr Moriarty said.
Q: I am 28 years old and am currently saving for a house. I have health insurance covering public and private hospitals which is costing me around €75 per month, but I am thinking of cancelling this as I am in good health and have never had to use it. What do you recommend?
A: The advice of Dermot Goode of TotalHealthCover.ie is to try to keep your cover in place for a number of reasons. If you end up in a public hospital for any in-patient treatment, you will be charged €80 per night, up to €800 in any 12-month period. Secondly, if you cancel your cover and look to rejoin at some future stage, any pre-existing conditions will not be covered for five years. You need to bear in mind the waiting times for routine elective treatment through our public health system. For the peace of mind of knowing that you can access all public and private hospitals in the event of ill health, an accident or sports injury, Mr Goode says it is a good idea to try to maintain the cover.