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Un-safe as houses: 3 million keys loose in UK gardens

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Insurer is urging homeowners to keep their homes secure as lockdown restrictions ease

With lockdown restrictions easing across the UK, Admiral Home Insurance is urging homeowners to make sure their home is secure when out and about, after its recent investigation revealed people could be putting their homes at risk from unwanted intruders.

Analysis of Admiral’s home insurance data revealed there were 57% fewer burglary claims during the lockdowns in 2020 compared to the number of claims during the same time periods in 2019, as people stayed at home.

However, the insurer has revealed that one in five people admit to keeping a spare key under a door mat or flowerpot outside their home meaning that collectively, there could be as many as 3 million keys at risk of being found in people’s gardens, making their homes an easy target for burglars while people are out enjoying the better weather and relaxed lockdown restrictions.

A further one in five homeowners also admitted to losing a set of house keys they’ve never found, and 60% of homeowners have failed to replace the locks after losing their keys.

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Admiral warns there could be a spike in burglary claims as lockdown restrictions ease, especially if people aren’t keeping the keys to their home safe or replacing the locks after losing their set of keys.

The investigation also revealed the average home has seven sets of house keys, with spares given out to neighbours, cleaners and even co-workers, while 20% of property owners confess to still having a set of keys to a home they used to live in.

Do burglars know where you keep your spare house keys?

Noel Summerfield, Head of Household at Admiral said: “We’ve seen the number of burglaries go down significantly during the national lockdown periods, as people stayed at home. However, with lockdown restrictions easing and people venturing away from home it’s alarming to think just how easy it could be for someone to gain access to your house, and your possessions, without having to force their way in.

“Whether you’re venturing close to home or further afield, it’s vital that you take the time to make sure your home is secured before you leave. Opportunist burglars will be aware that more people will be away from their homes and under the doormat or flowerpots will be the first place they’ll look to find a spare key in order to gain entry to your home and help themselves to your belongings.

“If you’ve lost a key to your home and can’t find it, make sure you change your locks as you never know whose hands your keys could fall into. Similarly, if you’ve recently moved home it’s wise to change the locks so the previous owners, or anyone they may have given a spare key to, can’t access the property without your permission.

“If you do need a spare key, in case of emergencies, it’s worth paying that little bit extra for a high-quality key safe to make sure it’s secure and don’t be tempted to leave your keys in a different hiding place in your garden. You should also avoid leaving spare keys anywhere on show inside your home, like near a door. We’ve seen incidents where burglars have found a way of getting hold of them through cat flaps and letter boxes.

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“As a word of warning, if your home is broken into by someone who has been given a key, it may not be covered by your home insurance policy. Make sure you know who you are giving a spare key to and that they will keep it safe and secure.”

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Commenting on Admiral’s campaign, Superintendent Peter Crowcroft at Cheshire Police said: “Burglars will always be on the look-out for any lapses in security so it is important that people do all they can to protect both their home and their prized possessions.

“If people are going to be late home from work or out for the night, they need to ensure their home looks lived in, is properly secured and not a target for thieves. “I would ask all residents to remain vigilant and to report any suspicious activity to the police immediately. Even the smallest amount of information can be useful when piecing together a case. “I would also urge them to address their own home security measures to help make life even more difficult for thieves.”

To help homeowners keep their homes and belongings safe and secure, Admiral has created a helpful tool for people to quickly find out if their home is at risk and if it’s time to get their locks changed.

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Admiral has also created a list of top tips to help keep your home safe while on holiday – or out on a day trip:

  • Avoid sharing photos on social media until you return
  • Check your privacy and security settings on social media before posting any information about your holiday or trip out
  • Lock all windows and doors – and don’t forget about side gates and upstairs windows
  • Lock ladders away and out of sight as these could provide easy access to your home
  • Don’t leave any valuables on display or near windows
  • Put lights, televisions and radios on a timer switch to give the impression someone’s at home
  • Outdoor lighting, including motion-censored lighting can deter thieves
  • Cancel milk deliveries
  • Get a neighbour or relative to put out your bins and arrange for a trusted person to come into the house to open and close curtains when you’re away
  • Ask someone with two cars to park one on your drive overnight Cheshire Police advice on keeping your home safe:
  • Ensure that your home is kept secure at all times – even when you are at home. If you are replacing or fitting new doors and windows, get ones that are certified to British Standard BS7950 (windows) or PAS 24-1 (doors)
  • Fit mortise locks (Kitemarked BS3621) to all front and back doors and locks to all downstairs windows or windows which are easy to reach
  • Keep your house and car keys safe and away from doors and windows
  • Fit a burglar alarm, but make sure it is installed properly and works
  • Fit external security lights around your home, garage or any sheds etc.
  • Keep your garage and garden shed locked with proper security locks, and keep any tools secure and out of sight
  • Trim back any plants or hedges that a burglar could hide behind
  • Make sure you have up-to-date home insurance
  • When the darker nights draw in, consider buying timer switches to turn on table lamps, standard lamps and radios around the home as it gets dark to make it look as if someone is at home
  • Keep desirable items out of view to passers-by – valuables should not be visible from windows and doors in your home

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