With rich pickings for thieves in your garden right now, it could pay to check what your household insurance covers
With British summer time for once starting on cue, garden centres are reporting record numbers of customers. But what happens if all those expensive outdoor items get nicked?
Garden and home retailer Dobbies, says the unseasonably warm weather has prompted a record number of shoppers to its 32 centres around the UK, and like-for-like sales are well ahead of this time last year.
But with an increase in daylight, garden activity, and the value of items in our gardens, comes a corresponding increase in garden theft. Analysis of 10 years of claims data from insurer Aviva reveals that thefts from gardens and outbuildings soar by more than 25% when the clocks go forward, with the average haul totalling £850. Claims steadily increase as the days get longer, and peak in July and August, when they are almost 40% higher than at the start of the year.
Children's toys, bikes and garden tools – often left outside – are the thieves' favourites, says Aviva. Of the garden equipment stolen last year, 42% were power tools such as electric drills, planers and saws, 39% were simple hand tools such as spades, rakes and forks, while 19% were electric lawnmowers, chainsaws and ladders.
Reports on garden security website Gardien show that gardeners need to be on alert for opportunistic thieves.
Wiltshire police, for example, is warning that burglars are currently targeting at least two properties a night in the Chippenham area.
Meanwhile, Derbyshire Dales's campaign Operation Rascal is encouraging residents to protect their sports and gardening equipment by fitting shed alarms, security lights and visibly and permanently marking items such as lawnmowers and tools. Also reported over the past month are increasing thefts of garden ornaments in Cornwall, Dorset, Durham and Tyneside.
A survey by Confused.com in 2010 valued the contents in British gardens at an average of £825, with garden tools, lawnmowers, patio furniture and barbecues among the most expensive items.
Standard home contents policies vary considerably in how much they cover. The structure of outbuildings, garages, greenhouses and garden sheds will normally be covered by standard buildings policies, as they are classed as fixtures and fittings, but not all policies extend cover to structures such as boundary walls, fences, gates, paths, drives or swimming pools, according to the Association of British Insurers.
Standard contents cover will also usually extend to contents in garages, greenhouses and sheds, subject to policy limits and exclusions, and provided these buildings are kept locked.
Some contents policies, but not all, will include a certain amount of cover for "contents in the open". This typically includes moveable items normally kept outside, such as garden furniture, barbecues, pots and ornaments – although motorised vehicles, including ride-on lawn mowers, are normally excluded. Direct Line, for example, covers contents in the open for up to £1,000 per claim, as does Halifax home insurance, while esure provides £2,000 of cover.
Some policies even cover theft or damage of plants, including lawns, or will allow you to buy this as an add-on for an extra premium. More Than and esure, for example, provide up to £2,000 cover for plants in the garden under their standard contents policies. Aviva offers customers an add-on which provides up to £2,500 for replacement plants and re-landscaping, with a £250 single limit per plant.
Damage by flood or storm is typically excluded and no insurers will cover plants for accidental damage such as being dug up by your dog or for damage by disease or lack of care.
Marks & Spencer Home Insurance is unusual in covering all garden contents for up to the full contents policy limit of £100,000, provided the garden is kept secure and not readily accessible.
Because of the extreme variations in cover, it is important to look out for exclusions. If you have valuable garden ornaments, or expensive plants in pots, for example, ask if they are covered as standard or whether you can buy extra cover to protect them.
Darren Black, head of home insurance at Confused.com says: "There is no standard approach to how insurers treat garden cover so the key message is to shop around and always read the policy documents before you buy."