11:38 03 December 2012
It's the most wonderful time of the year...
It certainly is, especially if you're a burglar, as homes around the country are now starting to fill up with expensive Christmas gifts.
Having jostled my way through busy high streets this weekend I can tell you first-hand that the Christmas shopping season has definitely begun, marking the start of costly few weeks ahead.
It's during these weeks that you may have more valuables in your home than at any other time of the year. Just look at the price tags on some of this Christmas 2012's must-have gadgets, for example.
So it's important to make sure that, if you were targeted by burglars, the contents cover on your home insurance would cover your losses. Here's a look at whether your contents cover is up to scratch and why you should buy cover if you don't already have it.
What is contents insurance?
Imagine you were big enough to pick up your house from its foundations, turn it upside down and shake it. If you have cover, all the items that fall out would be covered by your contents insurance.
Contents insurance protects you against theft, attempted theft, fire, flood, water damage and other potential problems, depending on your policy.
If your contents are damaged by one of these things, your insurer will either pay for the full cost of repair or give you the money to buy the equivalent new item as a replacement.
The price you pay for contents insurance depends on the cumulative value of the contents in your home. There are contents calculators which help you get an accurate estimate of your contents' value so that you don't over-pay for cover, or under-insure.
By the time you've finished your Christmas shopping and, mince pie in-hand, put your feet up, the value of your home's contents may have gone up by several hundred pounds - which won't have been factored in when you took out the policy.
So, do you need to increase your level of cover around this time of year to include the presents sitting temporarily under your tree?
You may be surprised to know that some insurers automatically increase your contents insurance during the season of good will.
For example, the AA automatically increases the insured value of your contents by 20% from December 1 to January 6 to account for the extra valuables in your home.
Similarly, Endsleigh ups your contents cover by 10% around Christmas; while the Post Office gives you 10% extra contents cover for Christmas and other religious festivals when you may have additional expensive items in your house.
The extra level of cover and the period of the extended cover will vary from one insurer to the next - and will come with strings attached, so it's important to read your policy documents carefully. If in doubt, get on the phone to your insurer and ask how Christmas affects your cover.
Nightmare before Christmas
If you don't have any contents cover, you're seriously risking a nightmare before Christmas as opportunist thieves tend to more active at this time of year.
Burglary increases by approximately 23% during the winter months according to crime prevention charity Crimestoppers.
MoneySupermarket's home insurance expert Hannah Jones said:" "At Christmas, when many of us will be giving and receiving presents, it's worth checking to see if your contents cover is adequate - and it would be worth a call to your insurer if you think you might need extra protection over the coming weeks. It's also worth hanging onto any receipts you have for presents you've bought but have yet to give - these would be useful in the event of a claim for a loss at your home.
"Whatever the time of year, it's important to choose the right sum insured," says Hannah. "Our research suggests one in five homes have less contents cover than they need. But you should take care not to over-insure, because you'll be paying higher premiums than necessary."
Stocked up? Lock up!
Even if you have contents insurance and your insurer gives you additional cover for all those Christmas presents, you could still find your claim turned down if you fail to make sure your home is secure.
Often, home insurance policy documents will state that you must take "reasonable care" of your property in order for your policy to remain valid.
So, if you went out for a bit of last minute shopping and left a window open before returning home to find you'd been robbed - the insurer could refuse to pay out for the stolen items because you failed to take reasonable care by leaving the window ajar.
It's important then to make sure you keep your home secure at all times. Here are our top tips for keeping out intruders:
• Make sure all doors and windows are locked before leaving the house. Even if you're inside the house, be aware that thieves could sneak in through an open window or unlocked door.
• Burglar alarms help to lower your home insurance premiums, but you must remember to set them before heading out.
• Ensure that car and house keys can't be seen through the letterbox, as thieves may attempt to fish them out using a wire and hook.
• If the gifts you've bought came in boxes advertising what was inside, don't leave them leave on display by your bins, as they could serve as an inventory of what's in your home for burglars. Break the boxes down as much as possible and mix them in with the regular rubbish, or head to the tip or recycling centre.
• If you're going away for Christmas, make sure everything is locked up, appliances are switched off and the heating is set to a low temperature on a timer, as you don't want the pipes to freeze up while you're away.
• Also if you are going away - don't publicise it on Facebook or Twitter.
• If you're going away for an extended period, check your contents and your buildings insurance. If your property is empty for more than 30 days at a stretch, your cover may be invalidated, so you'd need an additional policy.
• If you have outdoor Christmas lights and you're feeding the cable through your window, you need to make sure the window can't then be pried open. The best option might be to use battery or solar powered outdoor lights.
Please note: Any rates or deals mentioned in this article were available at the time of writing. Click on a highlighted product and apply direct.
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