As the nights draw in, and many offices encourage staff to return, burglaries are predicted to surge by 20% in the winter months. In light of this, it's never been more important to secure your home from intruders with an effective alarm system.

But which are approved by insurers? And what does this mean for your cover?

Insurers will almost always ask that your alarm is supplied and installed by an approved firm. The bodies responsible are the National Security Inspectorate (NSI) and Security Systems Alarm Inspectorate Board (SSAIB).

Alarm systems have to be rigorously tested to ensure they work correctly and that the companies installing them have undergone technical competency and professionalism checks in order to be awarded NSI/SSAIB-approved status.

Alarm types

  • We will begin by explaining some of the jargon used. Audible only

An audible system will sound a siren or bell in a box fixed to the outside of the property when activated. It relies solely on an occupant or other person calling 999 to alert the police. Crucially, police will only attend if there is evidence of criminal activity – simply calling to report an alarm making a noise will not be sufficient.

  • Monitored

This type of alarm is linked to a manned alarm receiving centre (ARC). The centre will hold full details of the system and, where there is a key holder such as a security company, friend or relative, their identity. A keyholder will be expected to be familiar with the alarm system and be located within 20 minutes of the property.

These systems are installed to comply with police guidelines around responding and will be issued with a unique reference number (URN). When the alarm is activated, the ARC will contact the relevant local police control room and confirm the activation to elicit a police response.

It is worth highlighting that police forces will withdraw their response in the event of multiple false alarm activations, irrespective of cause. This is primarily to prevent waste of resources.

  • Confirmation

To assist in reducing false alarms, systems can have cameras or microphones added. This allows the ARC to look at or listen to the property in the event of an activation. More commonly, a simple sequential system is used, where at least two alarm sensors need to activate in order to produce a police response. A single activation would be deemed to be 'unconfirmed' and only key holders would be notified.

Grading and standards

Alarms are graded according to the level of protection they provide and the value of property being protected.

The grading is a simple 1-4, with 4 being the highest. The majority of monitored domestic alarm systems will need to be either grade 2 or 3. It is rare for a grade 4 system to be specified given that the equipment necessary to meet this level is scarce.

Audible only systems will sit within grade 2 and are termed '2E'.

Insurers will usually specify alarm protection as follows for both domestic and commercial premises:

  • Grade 2E for lower risk properties
  • Grade 2 for higher risk properties
  • Grade 3 for high risk properties

One of the key differences between grade 2 and 3 is that a grade 3 system has to incorporate masking detection. This is a tactic employed by criminals to disable movement detectors by covering them with tape or using aerosol-based products, allowing them undetected access to the premises.

The alarm industry is governed by a variety of standards. Those relating to systems and the ARC are critical to obtaining a police URN and therefore response.

Likewise, keyholders being located within 20 minutes of the property is critical to obtaining a URN.

  • PD6662 and BS8243 apply to the system
  • BS5979 or BS EN 50518 apply to the ARC
  • SIA is the guarding licence required by any commercial keyholder in order to elicit a response and both the NSI and SSAIB provide a list of approved companies on their websites

Technical features

  • An alarm is made up of a number of components and we have highlighted these as follows. Detectors – usually a combination of magnetic contact strips to doors and windows and movement detectors within the property (usually a small box in the corner of a room with a permanent light that blinks when it senses movement)
  • Hold-up/panic buttons – these can be added for an immediate response if triggered during a break-in. It should be noted that police response may require confirmation if there are excessive false triggers.
  • Control panel – where the alarm is set, using either a code via keypad or a remote fob. The latter is more widely preferred and is useful if you have staff who will access the alarm as it can trace who has used the system
  • Transmission – referred to as ATS, this is the key part of a monitored system as it controls how the monitoring centre will be notified of an activation. The simplest form is a signal sent via a single telephone line (referred to as 'single path') but this is vulnerable to attack so the industry standard is to use a second form of communication such as a mobile phone signal to counteract this (referred to as 'dual path'). This provides both a more robust communication and, in the event that both lines are cut, an immediate police response.

The current system is based on the existing analogue national telephone network and, as this transfers to a digital platform over the next three to five years, the changes needed to alarm systems will become clearer as many will move from reliance on both a 'hard' phone line, plus a secondary source to a router-based line, which can be cut in the event power disruption.

  • Servicing – the alarm will need to be periodically tested to ensure that it remains operational. This is usually carried out annually and the installer will provide a cost for this service.

Insurance requirements

Insurers will vary in their requirements around alarms, and these will depend on the value of your possessions, the area you live, and your claims record.

If your home is surveyed by your insurer and they specify that an alarm be fitted, they should provide a specification. This can be relayed to an approved alarm company in order that a quotation can be given.

The insurer will usually agree to a timeframe for the system to be installed and may apply additional terms and conditions to claims for theft or attempted theft until the work is completed.

In some cases, they will also apply an alarm condition which will stipulate that the alarm is set when the home is left unoccupied and include conditions around servicing, maintenance and what to do if the system fails.

Different insurers have will have different parameters and limits for the mandatory installation of an alarm. If you already have a system, they will ask for a copy of the specification 'as fitted', which will outline how it operates, type of transmission and police response.

Our team at Lockton Private Clients can provide you both insurance solutions and expert guidance around managing your risk when it comes to protecting the things that matter. We can also put you in touch with reputable expert alarm suppliers and installers to secure the best solution for your needs. With the right advice, you can feel confident that your most treasured items are properly protected.

You can also find a local alarm company via NSI and SSAIB.

For further advice, please do get in touch with us using the details below.