The survey of more than 3,300 Australians found that 37% had left a spare key with a relative and 14% had given one to a neighbour.
However, 22% said they had stashed a spare key somewhere around the house, such as in the letterbox, hose reel, shed or garden. This included about 1% of participants who said they had a key under their front doormat, while 4% said they had secreted it in a fake rock. People aged 18-29 years were almost twice as likely to leave their key in an unsecured location around the home (42% compared to the overall national average of 22%).
“If you have your key under the doormat, you might as well just leave the front door open for thieves,” Canstar finance expert Steve Mickenbecker said. “If your key is under the mat, and your house is broken into, there’s every chance that you could have voided your insurance policy.”
While 86% of home and contents insurance policies on the Canstar database would cover a policyholder if a break-in occurred without signs of forced entry, most policies state that you should take “reasonable care” to secure your property.
“Leaving a key in an unsecured spot could be seen as not taking enough care,” Mr Mickenbecker said.
“People shouldn’t just think about it in terms of it voiding their insurance, there is also the emotional drama of having your home – where you should feel safe – violated,” he said. “There needs to be some common-sense thinking applied.”
There were about 168,000 victims of “unlawful entry with intent” – the official name for break-ins – recorded by police around the country last year, according to the Australian Bureau of Statistics (ABS). About 65% of break-ins involved the theft of property. Most burglaries – just over 70% – were in residential locations, with 10% at retail premises.
However, the ABS stats also showed that the number of break-ins across Australia was actually dropping, with the number of victims of burglary recorded by police reaching a nine-year low.
“The number of burglaries nationally has decreased by over 20%, from a peak of 215,000 in 2012,” said the ABS’ Director of Crime and Justice Statistics, William Milne.
Mr Mickenbecker said part of the reason break-ins have fallen was probably because people were becoming more savvy about home security.
“We have heard the messages about trying to make your house less attractive to dishonest people,” he said. “If there are 10 houses in the street and two have barking dogs, and another two have a security system – which houses are going to get broken into?”
Mr Mickenbecker said the consequences of being broken into were more than just property damage and loss.
“Insurers usually have new-for-old coverage, which means there is a substantial cost in covering claims,” he said.
“Those costs are typically passed on as higher premiums across the board and in your suburb specifically.
“There’s also the personal impact – you never quite get everything back, as certain things might not be covered. There could be item limits on your policy that you are not aware of, or there might be items that have to be separately listed on your policy for them to be covered, such as expensive jewellery. If that jewellery has been passed down through multiple generations, there’s often an element of sentimental loss too, which can be quite significant.
“After a break-in, you almost never quite come out on top when it comes to replacing what’s lost.”