Use your smartphone to look after your house

Protecting your home

How secure will your home be while you're away?

Empty houses can attract opportunistic burglars. Here are 10 tips to help ensure your home is not a target while you're on holiday.

 

As the weather heats up, thousands of UK families will flock from their homes to hit the beach, explore the countryside or fly to foreign shores.

Summer is prime holiday season – with 22,450 UK residents travelling abroad between July and September in 2015 – and many homes will be left empty for periods of time 1. But with thousands of burglaries occurring in the UK every year 2, it’s important for jetsetters to double-check their home security before heading away.

We gathered tips from burglar-turned-home-security-expert Michael Fraser of BBC’s Beat the Burglar, Neighbourhood and Home Watch Network chair Jim Maddan OBE, the Metropolitan Police Service, Crimestoppers and Malcolm Tarling from the Association of British Insurers.

1. Think like a burglar

Stand outside your home and analyse its weak spots, so you can fix problem areas before you leave. ‘Just imagine you haven’t got your keys and look where you’re going to try and get in. That’s what a burglar does,’ says Michael. Jim agrees: ‘Using prickly plants as boundaries and keeping hedges low to make intruders more likely to be seen are subtle, yet effective deterrents.’ Weak spots could include windows without locks, cat flaps or patio doors. Gravel driveways and paths can also help to prevent intruders approaching silently, the Metropolitan Police say 3

2. Keep your travel plans out of sight  

Everything from a window-facing wall planner to ordering a taxi from your address can be a sign you’re heading away. Burglars are on constant look out for people who are leaving their homes for a holiday, says Michael. ‘There are people who walk around airports and, if they can see an address tag, they’ll take a photo and zoom in on the address.’ Crimestoppers advises holidaymakers to only put a house number and post code on luggage tags, instead of a full address 4.

3. Get techno-savvy

Your smartphone can be your biggest asset in making your home looked lived in while you’re away. Wi-Fi controlled lights such as Easybulbs can be turned on and off with a free app, and tablets can be turned into security cameras with the free app Presence, which includes 50MB of free video storage. Simpler methods such as changing the passcode to your security system and installing sensor lights will also help keep your home more secure. ‘Having lights on a timer and motion-detecting exterior lights can make your house appear occupied, even when you’re not there,’ Jim says.

4. Watch what you post

Have you posted about your upcoming holiday on Twitter or Facebook? That may not be the wisest idea, advise Michael and Malcolm. If your whole household is away, it’s recommended that you don’t share photos, status updates or location posts for the duration of the trip. ‘Don’t boast about going on holiday and certainly don’t put it on Facebook or Twitter. Don’t send holiday pictures until you return because it shows you’re not home,’ says Michael. Malcolm agrees: ‘Insurance companies don’t scour social media, but you need to think about what you put online and use any privacy controls you can.’

5. Be careful about what’s visible

Keep all belongings around your property out of sight from prying eyes, particularly ladders and tools, which could be used to get into your home. ‘It’s better to have a ladder in your living room than a burglar using it to get into your property,’ says Malcolm. The Metropolitan Police advise locking wheelie bins or other climbing aids away, and say to ensure your front boundaries are no more than 1 metre-high so burglars can be seen from the street 3

6. Think about your deliveries

An overflowing letterbox or piles of newspapers at your front door are sure signs you’re away. Michael suggests cancelling subscriptions but not using your holiday as a reason. If you’re going to have parcels delivered, consider using a delivery service such as CollectPlus to have items sent to a local store. You can select the Click & Collect option at the checkout of more than 90 retailers for delivery to one of 5,800 CollectPlus stores across the UK. Costs vary between retailers. Another option is Royal Mail’s Keepsafe service, a safe and secure way of storing parcels and letters sent to your household with Royal Mail. Crimestoppers also advises homeowners to break up the packaging of any recent electronic purchases (such as TV or laptop boxes) and recycle it, as leaving boxes outside could alert burglars to any new purchases 4.

7. Ask a close friend or neighbour for help

Having someone keep an eye on the property can be helpful – but it’s important to choose wisely. ‘If you have a trustworthy neighbour, friend or relative then get them to look out,’ says Malcolm. It’s about getting it right, Michael agrees. ‘Turning lights on and off is good but leaving lights on all the time actually attracts people.’ Asking a neighbour to park their car in your driveway could also help to deter intruders, Crimestoppers says.

8. Take photos of each room before you leave

A visual reminder of your belongings can help with insurance claims and aid your memory, Michael says. ‘Burglars tip your house upside down and it can be difficult to remember everything that was there.’ It’s also a good idea to make a note of the serial numbers of your digital belongings to keep somewhere safe in case you need to make a claim. Items with a unique serial number can be registered for free with the UK National Property Register at Immobilise.com.

9. Check you’re covered

Most policies have limitations on cover if you’re away from your home for more than 4 weeks. You can keep your home and belongings protected with Barclays Home Insurance, which includes a range of options to give you the flexibility to choose exactly what you’d like covered. Make sure you read the policy terms so that you know what is and isn’t covered.

10. Ultimately, use common sense

Most burglaries are opportunistic. The Metropolitan Police says simple clues such as a lack of security lighting or visible alarm, and valuables on display can make your property more attractive to intruders 5. It’s important to remember your insurance might be invalidated if you’ve left windows unlocked, keys hidden near the front door or tools unsecured, so be sure to double check your policy – and your home – before you head away.

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