The British Crime Survey 2000 (BCS) estimates that burglars broke into 760,000 British homes during 1999. The 2000 International Crime Victims Survey (ICVS) estimates that the number of burglaries was somewhat less in France. According to the ICVS, 2.8% of people in Britain can expect to become victims of burglary, while in France the risk is just 1%.
Whether your home is in Britain or in France, having it burgled can prove to be one of the most traumatic of crimes. Though your empty property may be out of sight, its security will never be far out of mind. Fortunately, there are some sensible precautions you can take to increase both your home security and your peace of mind.
The biggest risk factors for domestic burglary are poor security and low levels of occupancy. The 2000 BCS states that victims of burglary are “less likely to have security measures in place at the time of the incident than non- victims.” It adds that, “security is effective in thwarting at least some offenders.”
Burglars want an easy, risk free life, and do not want to get caught. They avoid getting caught by taking great care to select the right home to break into. A pile of mail gathering behind the glass of the front door, a cluster of milk bottles on the doorstep, or a newspaper sticking out of the letterbox, are some of the signs they look for. Couple these with an overgrown garden, curtains that never close, and rooms in perpetual darkness and you might as well invite them to break in.
Provided that the rewards are likely to justify the effort involved, the burglar first identifies the quickest, easiest and safest route into your home. In most burglaries, he targets a door, by forcing a door lock or breaking a door panel. At other times he forces a window, or smashes window glass. Incredibly, in over a fifth of cases he simply walks in through an unlocked door.
If you value your possessions, you will have followed Home Office recommendations. You will have five-lever mortise deadlocks, kitemarked to at least BS3621, fitted on both front and back doors. You will have an automatic deadlock, that can be locked from the outside, fitted on the front door. You may also have fitted laminated glass to doors, and key- operated window locks on every window.
With millions spent on persuading householders to fit good quality locks on doors and windows, getting back out should present the burglar with as big a problem as getting in. Unfortunately, reassured at having followed the government’s advice, many people happily leave spare keys lying around inside the house.
All too often, the police attend the scene of a burglary to find that the burglar who has struggled to squeeze in through a small window has calmly walked out through a door. The door will often have a key in the lock, “in case there’s a fire”, or a simple latch lock that was lazily pulled to behind the busy householder. Occasionally, the unwitting occupant even provides the burglar with a getaway car in the drive and the car keys on the kitchen table.
Your empty property should always look occupied. Deliveries should be cancelled, and a trusted neighbour available to take in those that you cannot cancel. If there are no neighbours, family or friends available you can make alternative arrangements for your mail through the local post office. For a small fee, the Royal Mail will hold your mail at the local delivery office and will deliver it to your home on a date you specify. La Poste, the French postal service, will also hold onto your mail for one month free of charge, or for longer for a small cost.
A family member, a friend or a neighbour may even be prepared to call in to the house each evening and morning to close and open the curtains. The lights can look after themselves, if you invest in a time switch or two. If you are leaving a house unoccupied for an extended period, an alternative to this informal caretaker arrangement is a house- sitter.
House-sitters not only make sure that your house is safe, but they also have the added advantage of looking after the garden, the houseplants and even pets. The increasing popularity of house-sitters is attested to by HouseCarers.com, an Australian-based agency that receives over 600 visits a day to its web site. Such agencies will put you in touch with responsible people, both singles and couples, who will look after your property to your specifications in both Britain and France.
As both the householder and the house-sitter benefit from the arrangement, a typical house-sitting arrangement comes without payment. To avoid complications, HomeCarers.com encourages homeowners to use a formal selection process. They provide comprehensive advice about selecting the right sitter, which includes obtaining personal references, conducting interviews and drafting a written agreement that clearly lays out expected duties.
Having made sure that your house looks occupied, do not compromise your security by advertising the fact that you are going away. Not everyone standing amongst the crowds at the airport or station is a passenger. Display your home address on your luggage labels and you provide valuable intelligence for the more professional criminal. If you must put an address on your luggage, make sure it’s your work address, not your home address.
A small safe is an ideal place to secure your house and car keys, your smaller valuables and jewellery, and those irreplaceable items like marriage certificates, cherished mementoes and personal papers. Make sure the safe is proof against fire and flood, too, for added peace of mind.
Technology now provides the means to enhance household security to a level that will deter even the most determined burglar. Alarm systems vary in sophistication and in price. Some are simple stand- alone systems designed to draw attention. Others have multiple sensors and can be remotely monitored.
Whatever the system, it should meet BS4737 if professionally installed, or BS6707 if you install it yourself. In France the standard is the International Electro Technical Commission’s standard of IEC60839. Some household insurance companies offer a lower premium if you fit an approved alarm system. You should check with your insurer to see which alarm systems they recommend.
Regrettably, surrounded by car and house alarms, an indifferent public will often ignore the sound of an alarm. A more effective system is a monitored alarm. Once triggered, these systems alert a monitoring company who can call the police. These systems are more expensive than a stand- alone system, but give greater protection.
You do not have to go to the expense of paying for a remote monitoring system, as there are ways you can remotely monitor your house yourself for continual peace of mind. Some alarm systems can be programmed to telephone an alert to a friend or neighbour, who can then check on the premises and call the police and you if necessary.
If you have no one to keep an eye on the house you can install a remotely monitored closed circuit television system. Unfortunately, these tend to be expensive, complex, and not best suited for small homes or for those on a budget. Fortunately, with the development of computer technology, the Internet, and Cyber Café’s, remote monitoring has become easier than ever. Systems are now available that offer simple installation and maintenance, and are ideal for home security.
One unit on offer is the Supersluth Wise. Costing less than £500, this self-contained video surveillance system is housed in a unit that fits in the palm of your hand. It incorporates a digital camera and sophisticated video motion detection. Images are stored electronically within the unit, and can be accessed from anywhere in the world using a computer. The system can be linked to an existing alarm system, and can be used to trigger other security devices.
If, despite your best efforts to secure your property, you are unfortunate enough to become a burglary victim, adequate insurance is a must. Remember that many policies have clauses that penalise you if you are away from home for more than a certain number of days a year. Normally you will not be able to make a claim if your home is unoccupied for 30 consecutive days, though some insurers extend this to 60 days.
If you are insuring a French property against the risk of burglary, bear in mind that French policies do not relate to the value of the property, as in Britain. They are based on the size of the property, measured either in number of rooms or the habitable area of the house. As in Britain, you should expect to pay higher premiums if your house is unoccupied for any length of time. An absence of more than 60 days may invoke a 1500F claims excess, and may exclude you from claiming for instances of theft.
French insurers will also expect you to have at least two locks on each exterior door, one of which must be a five-lever mortise deadlock. The locks should meet the European Committees for Standardization standard EN1303. Most French insurers will expect the house to be fitted with bolted shutters that are closed whenever you are away from the house for more than 24 hours. In
high crime areas, such as Paris and the Riviera, insurance companies will demand more stringent security measures. These may include stipulations such as ensuring that all security fittings are used whenever the house is unoccupied, and that the shutters are closed after ten o’clock at night and whenever the property is empty. Insurance policies do differ, so check with your insurance agent.
Claims in France must be made promptly, and must be lodged with the insurer within three to five days of any incident. In instances of theft, you must inform the gendarmerie and make a statement, plainte, within 24 hours of discovering the crime. However, if you discover a burglary two months later, on your return to the house, the insurance company will probably not pay out.
The local police will be happy to point out weaknesses in your defences that you may well have overlooked. You should also inform your local police station if you are away from home for any length of time. The police will keep a discrete eye on your property, and will at least know who to contact if anything does happen. The local police station is also a good source of up-to- date crime prevention literature if you don’t have access to the Internet.
Encouragingly, both the BCS and the ICVS show that the number of burglaries is falling, while the numbers of households investing in home security is increasing. Thirty four percent of British households and thirteen percent of French households now have a burglar alarm system. More than three quarters of British homes also have window locks fitted. With the average cost of a burglary amounting to around £1400, a modest investment in security
could prove very cost effective, and will at least give you the peace of mind to fully enjoy the pleasures of France.
First published in Living France 2000