How to buy: Burglar alarms
How to buy: Burglar alarms
Saturday 30 August 2008 00.01 BST First published on Saturday 30 August 2008 00.01 BST
You’ve arrived back in Blighty, tanned and rested after a fortnight soaking up the sun in foreign climes. You lug the suitcases up the garden path, make a mental note to trim the hedge, and then you open the front door.
Your heart goes into your stomach as you survey the grim scene in front of you: the contents of drawers scattered all over the floor, cupboards flung open, gaps in the corner where the TV and music system used to be.
Unfortunately, this is a time of year when many people will return from their summer holiday to discover their home has been ransacked by burglars.
For many, this will be the event that spurs them into getting an alarm installed. But choosing the alarm that is right for your home and your budget is no easy task – there are stacks of different systems available and you are entering a world filled with jargon.
But I thought fewer houses were being burgled nowadays.
The most recent British Crime Survey data published last month showed that the number of domestic burglaries in England and Wales has fallen dramatically in recent years – from 1.7m in 1996 to 729,000 in 2007/08. But that downward trend is likely to be reversed if the UK economy sinks into a recession, with government officials predicting that the economic slowdown will lead to “upward pressure” on levels of property crime.
So how much will a burglar alarm set me back?
How long is a piece of string? You can pick up a cheap DIY alarm from Argos for £39.99. The Micromark Easy Fit Burglar Alarm Kit includes an external box, control panel, two movement detectors and two magnetic door contacts.
At the other end of the spectrum, an all-singing, all-dancing monitored system installed by professionals – perhaps including a control panel linked to the police, several infrared movement sensors and shock detectors, remote control gizmo and alarm boxes – may well set you back £1,000 or more. And there are lots of options in between. As with all these things, it depends on how much you want to spend.
This month’s Which? magazine carries a report on burglar alarms. Its researchers called 281 companies to get a price for installing and maintaining a wired alarm system for a three-bedroom semi. The average figure quoted for installation was £475, plus around £150 a year for a combined maintenance and monitoring contract. However, in London and the south-east, the average installation cost was higher – around £590.
What are the different types of alarm?
Broadly, it boils down to a choice between “bells-only”, a monitored alarm and/or a speech dialler.
• A bells-only alarm, aka an audible-only alarm, simply makes a racket when it is triggered. A bells-only alarm may deter intruders and alert your neighbours when it goes off, but on its own won’t generate a police response, says Eagle Security Solutions, based in Greenwich, south-east London. Which? says you should expect to pay £390-£600 for one of these.
• With a monitored alarm, you pay extra to have your system connected via telephone line or radio network to a “receiving centre”, which typically monitors signals received from your alarm 24 hours a day. What might happen is that a detector is triggered and a signal is sent to the receiving centre. Someone at the centre then immediately phones your home for password identification and to check everything is OK. If the password ID is not given, or the phone is not picked up, one of the keyholders you have nominated and/or the police are notified.
A monitored alarm will incur monthly or annual service charges on top of the installation costs.
• A speech dialler is a cheaper alternative to a monitored system. This is a device that can be connected to an alarm, or may already be built into the control panel. If there is a break-in, the speech dialler automatically calls the phone numbers that have been programmed in and leaves a pre-recorded message. Which? says having a speech dialler installed as an extra typically costs £100 to £150.
I like the idea of the police being notified. Tell me more.
Many companies will allow you to have your system linked to the police. Security firms say this is a good idea because many police forces won’t respond to a bell-only alarm, unless there is also first-hand evidence of a crime being committed.
But you will have to pay for this peace of mind. For example, Eagle Security Solutions charges from £9.99 a month for alarm monitoring where only the keyholders are nominated, with this rising to £20-plus a month if you want to be hooked up to the law. Often the amount you pay for police response will include maintenance of your alarm system, which tends to be mandatory. Also, the security firm that you use will have to apply for a unique reference number on your behalf from your local police; this will typically cost up to £45. In addition, the alarm will have to be installed by a company that meets certain requirements.
Because of the problem of false alarms, the police will usually only go out to your home if two detection devices (such as sensors) are activated in sequence. If only one is triggered, just the keyholder will be contacted. Even if two or more detectors are activated, do not assume officers will drop everything and rush to the scene immediately.
If you keep having false alarms, you will find yourself struck off the police register. In London, for example, notch up three false alarms within 12 months and you will be demoted to “level three police response”. The bad news is that this equals no response; it means your system is “banned”.
Which firm should I use?
The big names include ADT, Chubb and Dyno-Secure (part of British Gas). However, many people buy their alarm from an independent company. Talk to friends and neighbours about who provides their alarm. Are they happy with it? Does it go off when it shouldn’t? How much do they pay for monitoring and maintenance? Go for a company that is approved by an independent body such as the National Security Inspectorate (NSI).
It all sounds like a lot of money and hassle.
You might want to consider buying an empty burglar alarm box. The Screwfix.com website sells dummy alarm boxes that cost just £7.29 a pop. It’s probably going to be better than nothing – and at least it won’t annoy the neighbours by going off for no reason while you are out.
Will it ring an insurer’s bell?
Most insurance companies offer a discount of between 2% and 15% on the cost of home contents insurance if you have a burglar alarm, according to this month’s Which? magazine.
But research from comparison website Tescocompare.com has produced a very different picture, concluding that installing an alarm “does not seem to translate into lower insurance premiums”.
Tescocompare found that the average saving on your annual home insurance premium from adding an alarm to your property is only £5 – not much compared to the cost of installing and maintaining a security system. “If you are planning on adding extra security like this, solely because you want to lower your premium, you may find it does very little to bring down costs,” says a spokesman.
He adds that in the case of several companies, including Bradford Bingley, Budget and the AA, the premiums were exactly the same, whether or not you had an alarm. Prudential, Swinton and Kwik Fit were among the firms prepared to offer a small discount.
The Association of British Insurers says: “If you are considering installing an alarm, get advice from your insurer before buying one.” But it adds: “Most alarms only warn that someone has already broken in. Your first priority is to stop them getting in at all.”
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