Students who want to protect their precious gadgets need to examine the true price of proper insurance – so what can students do to safeguard their belongings?
by Iona Bain
So you have a clutch of great A-levels, you’ve been accepted to college and you are settling into your dorm room as we speak. But before you get into the swing of things, have a think about this; what is the most expensive thing you own? What do you use for writing essays, communicating with your friends, shopping, listening to music and generally running your life?
Have a think about it. It’s your laptop, isn’t it? You probably couldn’t live without it but what if it got stolen or damaged?
That was the grim possibility that my brother faced up to when he went up to college.
He was sensible enough to recognise that his laptop needed protecting – but his solution to this grave problem was comprehensively unravelled by a man who had come to his fix his computer.
“What is that piece of wire?”
“Oh, it’s my anti-theft device.”
“Er, not sure that will work, mate!”
“What do you mean?”
The 18 year old had secured his laptop with one of those clever locks that fits into it. However, he looped the the wire chain of the lock around……the leg of his desk. Oh dear.
Mr Laptop Repair Man proceeds to lift the desk, take the laptop – and the “anti-theft”lock attached to it – away with him. He gave it back, but on condition that my bro wouldn’t act like such a plonker again.
But besides tying your laptop to the table, there are other things students should do to protect their precious gadgets. First of all, what about insurance?
Check with your mum and dad whether they have home insurance – your gadgets, such as laptops and mobiles, may be covered. Recent research indicated that 80% of insurers will include student cover as standard on home insurance policies. But remember that you won’t even get a look-in with 15% of insurers.
Obviously, if you go to university in your hometown and still live with your parents, you are considered part of the family unit and will be automatically covered. But if you are moving away for college and want to be added to your family policy, your parents would have to notify their insurer, particularly if there are expensive items involved, and there may be an increase in the cost of their premiums and policy excess (i.e. the amount they are prepared to pay upfront to replace damaged or stolen items – this can lessen the cost of monthly premiums). The policy might also limit how much you can insure or have gaps in the cover – read those terms and conditions like they are your most important finals examination (shudder).
Either way, you and your parents may want to look at whether it costs less to be added to the policy or whether you should take out separate student home insurance and for those who won’t be insured on their family policy, this is definitely a big consideration.
But this is a thorny matter indeed. There are various “specialist” student insurers out there – you may well have seen them advertising at your Freshers Fair. There are also several banks that offer student insurance.
But insurers will charge you quite a bit extra to cover laptops –this additional cost can be significantly more than the purse-friendly quote they initially offer.
Earlier this week, I decided to find out for myself. Posing as a 20 year old girl studying at Leeds University, living in shared accommodation on Brudenell Road, I asked for some quotes. HSBC will cover me for around £114 – this is roughly £65 more than the basic quote that doesn’t include a laptop. But this also does not include personal belongings taken out with you, including a digital camera or jewellery – it costs me around £145 to insure these as well, and HSBC doesn’t insure mobile phones, so bad news for smartphone addicts.
Natwest is even more pricey, coming in at around £193 a year, though it does include mobile insurance in this package, alongside accidental damage and laptop insurance.
Barclays will offer me cover up to £2000 for just £79.97. But what happens if I include laptop insurance worth up to £750? The quote jumps up to £160.76. It will cost me a massive £203 if I take out personal possessions insurance worth£500 to cover my imaginary smartphone. Also note that Barclays does not include any accidental damage in this hefty package.
By contrast, Endsleigh will offer you accidental damage cover, mobile cover and laptop/personal gadget cover, all for £119.87.
Don’t take my word for it though. Quotes will vary significantly, depending on your circumstances and what you want to insure, so shop around and apply for quotes online. But don’t forget to check what your cover does and doesn’t include.
Then there is “bog standard” home insurance that doesn’t cater to the pot-noodle eating scholars of this country. Will that work out any cheaper?
The money saving expert himself, Martin Lewis, recently told the Guardian that
“students tend to jump to companies that market products as ‘student insurance policies’. But these are not necessarily cheaper than a normal home insurance policy — you could well get a better deal elsewhere.”
I decided to put this theory into practice but instead of going direct, I used Moneysupermarket.com and applied for a quote, again posing as a 20 year old female student at Leeds University who was living in shared accommodation on Brudenell Road. The cheapest quote for contents cover of £5000 (which was the absolute minimum I was allowed) was around £192 from QuoteLine Direct, jumping up a sizeable £204 a year with Virgin Money. All the quotes did include accidental damage cover, personal belongings cover up to £1000 (again, the minimum I was allowed) and insurance for a laptop worth £800 laptop – but they were in a different league to the quote I got from specialist student insurers.
This does not mean that Mr Lewis is wrong, of course – the quotes could very well work out cheaper for students with different circumstances from mine, particularly if they opt for reduced cover.
Whichever way, it will cost students a tidy sum if they want to insure their much-loved belongings comprehensively. Some students may consider this an unnecessary expense but they have to ask honestly assess themselves and their situation to see whether they need that extra cover – and have a back-up, should the very worst thing happen.
My extra home insurance tips
1) If you are clumsy, face up to it
I’m afraid I can’t offer a magic solution to all you heavy-handed students (though I have heard that playing musical instruments, dancing and general exercise help with co-ordination!)
But when it comes to insurance, it will cost you more to protect against your own clumsiness, not just malicious theft. Without accidental damage cover, students are only protecting themselves in case their belongings are stolen – and insurers will only pay out if there are signs of forced entry at the scene of the crime. This brings me to my next question…
2) Always lock up your room and insist on secure accommodation
If you live in halls of residence, it is very easy to leave your door unlocked or even open (a la Friends), in order to welcome your fellow students round. Student halls can feel very safe and communal – and they are, for the most part. But this can lure students into a false sense of security – their belongings are not 100% safe from anyone. And don’t forget; unscrupulous thieves can target your accommodation in the hope that a dopey student and his valuable belongings are easily parted.
If a rogue student or outsider can gain access to your room simply by opening the door and grabbing whatever is there, you are more likely to be burgled than if you lock up your room and shut your windows properly whenever you go out – even if you are nipping to the laundrette or library. You may even question whether you need insurance if you are security-conscious enough – student halls can be very safe places to live if you take the right precautions.
If you live in shared accommodation outside of campus, it is a slightly different matter. You are out in the big bad world, not in the ivory towers of student halls, and you should make sure that there are substantial locks on the front door and all the windows, plus an effective burglar alarm. Having a lock on the door of your rented room is advisable, and might be worth investing in. Check with your landlord and always look out for ultra-secure properties when scouting for accommodation, particularly since student digs can be in rough parts of the town.
It might even be a good idea to get a small cupboard or set of drawers that can be locked up, particularly if you can’t get a lock on your door – put your laptop in there for peace of mind whenever you go out.
3) Don’t take ultra-valuable things away with you
According to recent research, students are taking valuables worth over two grand to university – that is an astonishing figure. It is understandable that students want to bring a laptop and/or a desktop computer with them, but is it really necessary for 4% of students to have an iPad or tablet during term-time?
Unless they are prepared to insure them, this is verging on madness, considering these could attract thieves like moths to a flame and will cost at least £300/400 to replace if they got damaged or broken. Save it as a treat for when you get home.
It is a similar story with valuable jewellery, like birthday presents from your friends and family which can have huge sentimental value and perhaps be irreplaceable, insurance or no insurance. My mum has always said to me “only take things that you don’t mind losing” – leave the Tiffanys at home and break out the Claires Accessories.
Musical instruments – now I can understand why people would bring these to college. But might it be worth investigating musical instrument insurance? These bad boys can be worth hundreds, if not thousands of pounds but they wouldn’t necessarily be covered by regular student insurance anyway.
4) Back up your work at least once a term
Save your work on an external hard drive at least one a term, possibly more frequently towards exam periods. Your laptop is replaceable but your work isn’t. Losing that could prove catastrophic.