Especially for insurance companies. David Parsley looks at some of the most common claims for fire, theft and frost at Christmas

Insurers are gearing up for their busiest time of the year. According to Sainsbury’s Home Insurance, there are 47% more claims over Christmas Eve, Christmas Day and Boxing Day than in any other three-day period of the year.

Neil Laird, home insurance manager at Sainsbury’s, said: “Over the Christmas period, customers can be at a higher risk of being burgled if their home is empty. And if the house is full of friends and family, the chances of something breaking or being damaged can also increase.”

Like many insurers, Sainsbury automatically increases cover by 10% during the festive period.

According to Norwich Union, 25 December is the worst day for fires in the home, with claims soaring by 140%. Hot ovens, overloaded plug sockets next to the Christmas tree, fairy lights and festive candles, plus dry tinsel and wrapping paper, all contribute to the rise.

Christine Matthews, household claims manager at AXA, is only too familiar with fire claims around the festive season.

“On one occasion,” says Matthews, “our customer opened the back door and the draught caused Christmas cards to blow on to a candle, which set the table cloth alight. There was extensive fire damage to the dining room, living room, furniture and electrical equipment. The claim amount was £6,275.

“Another time a Christmas tree caught on fire, which resulted in a £10,231 claim.”

But that’s nothing compared to the whopper of a claim that hit the desk of Neil Bickley, a claims manager at Home and Legacy, which specialises in high net worth cover.

“The worst Christmas claim was a fire on 20 December 2006, as a result of an electrical fault around the Christmas tree. The property was a total loss and the claim was settled for £1.25m.”

The criminals’ Christmas

Christmas Day traditionally has the lowest crime rate of the year. But the thieves don’t rest for long. New Year’s Eve has the highest burglary rate of the festive season, according to Norwich Union.

Homes are 25% more likely to be robbed on 31 December than on an average day. Every year, canny thieves break into homes left empty while their occupiers are out celebrating and steal the newly acquired Christmas gifts.

Businesses are also targeted during the festive season. There are often large amounts of cash in shop tills, heightening crime risk.

According to new research from Premierline Direct, a business insurer, a third of small and medium-sized enterprise (SME) owners believe crime against businesses is on the rise; a view supported by Home Office criminologists, who earlier this year predicted that the credit crunch would bring an end to falling crime rates.

As if that wasn’t enough, there’s the seasonal weather to deal with. We may all pine for a white Christmas but, in reality, the cold and wet can cause many problems. For example, revellers often leave their houses empty for a few days when they visit relations. Many will not want to waste money on heating when they are away but this can lead to frozen or cracked pipes, which are expensive to get fixed and will cause huge disruption when people return.

Driving conditions are also worse and, with so many people travelling long distances to visit friends and family, there are more accidents on the road, leading to another rise in claims.

So do all these claims create a backlog of settlements when people return to work in January? Not according to Bickley.

“Often insurers run at half capacity to account for holidays, but the hours of business remain the same,” he says. “All insurers have ‘surge plans’ to account for disasters. Backlogs will be unusual – although staffing may be lower, phone traffic is much reduced so more work can be done.

“Outside business hours all insurers have organisations that staff the claim lines in case of emergencies 24/7, 365 days a year.”

So there’s no panic in the insurance industry – it’s time to relax and enjoy Christmas.

2008 burglars' wish list

1 iPods, especially the new iPod Nano

2 Laptops, particularly Apple MacBooks

3 Games consoles, such as the Nintendo Wii or Wii Fit

4 Mobile phones, particularly the Samsung Pixon or the Nokia 8800 Arte Carbon models

5 Digital cameras, such as the Canon Ixus 80

6 LCD televisions, including new Panasonic and Samsung models

7 Pocket PCs/BlackBerrys, especially the BlackBerry Storm

8 Designer watches, such as the Tag Heuer Formula 1 and the Omega models seen in James Bond films

9 CDs, DVDs and games, including the latest titles for the PlayStation 3, Xbox and Wii consoles

10 Sat navs, particularly the Tom Tom GO 940 Live