I currently live in a high-rise flat, which is very secure, with CCTV, fob-controlled access and so on. Unfortunately, due to Grenfell, our block is being emptied for refurbishment. I don’t know what type of property I will be offered, but I will have to provide my own home security system. Cost is not a major issue, because I will get a disturbance grant for the enforced move. But, as a pensioner, I wouldn’t like to be saddled with a high monthly premium for monitoring. Any suggestions would be very welcome. Peter
Technology companies are selling a lot of new gadgets to increase home security, including smart locks, motion detectors, window sensors and digital cameras. Many are part of the trend towards “smart homes” with internet-connected doorbells, lighting, voice assistants and so on. Most of this stuff comes under the general tech-industry label of the internet of things (IoT).
New technologies have certainly made many things easier, and sometimes cheaper. CCTV (closed circuit television) is a prime example. Early products used analogue TV cameras wired to VHS tape recorders. These systems were expensive and somewhat complicated to install. Today, you can stick small, battery-powered digital cameras almost anywhere, and access them via a smartphone. They can turn themselves on when they detect motion, and automatically upload clips to the cloud. Amazon’s Blink is a good example of this sort of system.
However, real home security still has more physical components than electronic ones. When I’m away from home, it is reassuring to access camera images remotely and see that everything is OK. On the other hand, if there’s a burglar in your living room, the system has already failed. It might have been better to spend the money on, say, window locks than on cameras.
The good news is that the number of domestic burglaries in England and Wales has declined from its peak of 2,445,000 in 1993 to 411,536 in the year ending March 2017, according to the Office for National Statistics. Since thefts are often opportunistic, even small increases in security can discourage burglars, and smart devices have undoubtedly contributed.
There is also a legal aspect. If you install CCTV, it should only capture images within your own property: your home and your garden. If it captures images of your neighbours’ homes, shared spaces and the public street, then the UK’s data protection laws – the Data Protection Act 2018 (DPA18) and the General Data Protection Regulation (GDPR) – apply. As the ICO explains, this requires you to put up signs saying that CCTV is in operation, handle data securely, and be prepared to handle subject access requests (SARs) within a month. If you’ve captured images of your neighbours, for example, they can ask to see them, and ask you to delete them.
When it comes to home security, different people obviously have different needs. In some parts of the UK, you can leave your windows open and your doors unlocked. In others, you might prefer to have reinforced doors with triple locks, bars over the windows, and a moat.
When you find out where you will be living, you can get a rough idea of the threat level by typing your postcode into the Burglary Hotspots page at Moneysupermarket.com. This is based on the number of insurance claims per postcode, rather than the number of burglaries. However, I’d assume that most burglaries are reported because people may need a crime reference number to make an insurance claim.
The numbers can vary a lot. Within 10 miles of where I live, they range from 1.48 claims per thousand in SW3 (Chelsea, Brompton, Knightsbridge) to 36.34 in SW14 (Mortlake, East Sheen).
When you move in, you can review your security. In some areas, you can get a crime prevention officer to visit your home and provide advice. You may also want to join a Neighbourhood Watch scheme. Either way, it’s a good idea to introduce yourself to your new neighbours and ask them to keep an eye out for intruders. You will, of course, do the same for them.
Most police forces offer security advice online, and there are some good general resources. Examples include Which?, the Consumers’ Association, Age UK and Moneysupermarket.com. Preventive measures range from putting lights on timers to planting prickly hedges.
Most police forces support schemes for marking valuable possessions with your house number and postcode. You can put a note to this effect in your window next to the Neighbourhood Watch sticker. Marking makes stolen property harder to sell, and easy to identify when found. Marking systems range from simple UV pens to Dot Peen engraving to Alpha Dot forensic marking. Other options include SmartWater, Selectamark and ImmobiMark.
The Metropolitan police force recommends SmartWater marking, which can also be used in a spray that “covers the offender in an invisible fingerprint that tags them and the stolen property back to the scene of the crime”. Free kits may be available to local residents via MetTrace.
You should also photograph valuable items, and register them with Immobilise.
The entry-level Neos SmartCam is sold direct by a home insurance company that reckons it will get fewer claims if its customers use monitoring devices. Its neat feature is “auto-arming”, where it will turn itself on if other devices suggest no one is at home. That should apply if you leave home with your smartphone, taking it out of range of your wifi.
There are, of course, dozens of smartcams with sophisticated features such as lens rotation and zooming. There are also potential hazards. For example, you could potentially be giving away a lot of personal information, which is why I avoid Google products as far as possible. Some cameras may use default passwords – which you should always change – or be easy to hack.
Alternatively, instead of shopping around for separate devices, you could buy an integrated, expandable kit. You could either install this yourself or get somebody to do it for you. One major advantage is that everything can be controlled from the same smartphone app.
One example is the Yale IA-320, which works with Yale smart locks and separate Amazon Alexa devices. The six-piece Family Kit (£235.68) includes an internal alarm, two motion detectors, a keypad and an external bell box with 104db siren – see the installation video. Larger kits are available. There are no rental charges and you can take the whole lot with you when you move.
Yale’s IA-320 home security kit is also sold by Currys, Costco, Screwfix, Wickes and other suppliers, and by Yale direct, so it should be a fairly safe choice. However, it has had mixed reviews on Amazon, with the smartphone app coming in for particular criticism.
You should also consider Honeywell’s RCHS5230WF starter kit (£248.32). Unlike Yale’s system, this is built around a base station that has an HD camera, motion detection, a siren and a built-in Alexa smart speaker – see video. The kit includes two wireless door/window sensors, and a small controller. As usual, there’s a companion smartphone app and a limited amount of cloud storage.
Yale’s biggest challenge now comes from Ring’s five-piece Alarm Security Kit (£249), which has recently been released in the UK. The Alexa-friendly kit includes a base station, a motion sensor and a contact sensor for a door or window (you can buy more on Ring’s website). Ring started with a video doorbell and its US range includes flood and other sensors not yet available here. However, Amazon bought the startup company last year, so rapid expansion seems likely.
Users who don’t have usable or reliable broadband could consider a JC Wireless kit (£83.99) that can be used with a 3G or 4G network, though it works over wifi as well.
Readers who have installed systems can share their experiences in the comments below.
Finally, it would be a good idea to talk to your local crime prevention officer, and to your home insurance provider, which may offer discounts if you install certain products. But in the end, only you can decide which approach best meets your needs and your finances.
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