Fail-safe or a failed safe?

With burglars increasingly removing entire safes from properties, simply owning one is no longer enough to guarantee security for home owners in the UK.

A Google search of ‘home safe’ produces more than six billion results, with most websites giving the same spiel about the importance of keeping your valuables secure. But what level of security do they offer? Safes are a common feature in UK homes and most insurers use the Euro grading system, which identifies the safe’s suitability based on the value of what it should be used to store. According to European Safe Standards, for example, a Grade 0 safe should be used for storing up to £10,000 in cash and valuables, while a Grade 6 safe should be secure enough for storing £150,000 in cash or £1.5 million of valuables.

Security versus convenience

Having a safe that’s the correct Euro Grading for what you’re planning to use it for still doesn’t make it safe, however. “The mistake people make is that they’ll pick convenience over actual security,” explains Sam Watkinson, Development Underwriter at Hiscox UK, who adds that the security surrounding the safe can be overlooked, individuals need to check an insurer’s recommendation on how to install a safe and as well as purchasing one that satisfies an insurer’s requirements.

Embedding a safe into concrete or securing it to the building is the best way of keeping it secure. Yet many people take the view that having a safe, or even a watch winder, in your bedroom or at eye level (in other words, on show) causes less disturbance to the before-bed routine and that, worryingly, this is a risk worth taking. “When it comes to installing a safe, some people will install it at eye level, or on a shelf upstairs, because that’s where you go to bed. You don’t come home from an evening out and wander down to the basement,” says Sam.

Of course, burglars have cottoned onto this. An increase in thefts in affluent areas has resulted in burglars directly targeting the safe, ripping it out and taking it with them. If it’s easy to find, then job done. If it’s easy to remove, the job’s even easier. Some of the lower-level Euro Grade safes can be the size of a shoebox and weigh no more than 50kg – a one-man job. Sam recalls one claim that was the result of a safe having been screwed into a wardrobe, which the thieves simply cut out. Another saw the removal of a safe that was secured to a chipboard floor, resulting in the safe being rolled down the stairs and the need for a full replacement of the building’s staircase and flooring, as well as the safe and jewellery.

Making a safe even safer

Sam advocates a focused, holistic approach to safes. “There are devices that attach to a safe and alert a monitored station that they’re being broken into. They also have a duress code function, which means if you’re being held at gunpoint and are told to put in a code, that code will open the safe but it will also let someone know. All these types of modern technology attachments to safes have massive benefits,” he says.

Some people also choose to use a dummy safe, leaving some their less valuable valuables in a more obvious safe, while the majority of cash and jewellery remain hidden in a safe that isn’t visible and is firmly secured to the building.

Things like making sure a safe is monitored on CCTV, gates to secure the property, CCTV around the home and a separate battery alarm for a safe in case the burglar disables the home alarm system all build layers of security. “Insurers would look at a client much more favourably if they were doing this,” says Sam.

So clients should take the time to have a conversation with their broker or insurer, Sam advises. Insuring homes like these is mostly done on a case-by-case basis, so rather than simply ticking the safe box, add a bit of context. “It’s providing that additional story behind their security approach,” explains Sam. The more an insurer knows about a client’s approach to security, the more they can advise them on its suitability to their situation, and on how safe their safe really is.