What to do if someone breaks into your house

Here’s how to keep yourself safe and deal with the aftermath of an intruder entering your home.

Kim Jones
Kim Jones
Updated 29 November 2021  | 5 mins read

Thankfully, it’s extremely rare to encounter an intruder in your home.

Burglars want to avoid bumping into you, which is why most break-ins happen when a house is empty.

But in the unlikely event that an intruder enters your property when you’re at home, it can be extremely traumatic, and you may not be able to think clearly.

In fact, there's no one correct course of action to take. It will depend on the circumstances and whether you’re alone or with other people. But the usual advice from the police is to try to stay calm and not take any unnecessary risks.

Key points

  • It’s extremely rare to encounter an intruder in your home, but there’s plenty you can do to improve home security to make it even less likely to happen.
  • Under the law, you are entitled to use reasonable force to protect yourself if a crime is taking place in your home.
  • If you’re unlucky enough to be burgled, try not to touch anything until the police arrive as you could disturb evidence.
  • Most insurance companies have tight time limits on how quickly you need to file a claim after a break-in - usually within 24 hours of reporting the incident to the police.

Keep yourself safe and call the police if you can

If you know or suspect there is an intruder in your home and you can reach a phone safely, dial 999 immediately. It’s a good idea to keep a phone by your bedside for peace of mind through the night. If the burglar has left your property and you’re not in any immediate danger, then call 101.

Activate your burglar alarm

Some people may prefer to keep silent and to hide away, but making a loud noise could be enough to scare away an intruder.

If you have a house burglar alarm, activate it. Or you could trigger a personal attack alarm if you have one. Even setting off your car alarm could draw attention from neighbouring properties.

Coming home to an intruder

If you arrive home to a broken window, an open door or a light on and think there’s a burglar inside, making a loud noise or ringing the doorbell could be enough to send them scarpering.

It’s best not to go inside and confront the intruder. Go to a neighbour’s, call the police, and wait there until they arrive.

After you’re sure the intruder has left:

Don’t touch anything

It may be tempting to clear up and immediately check for what’s been stolen. Ideally, you should touch as little as possible before the police arrive as you could destroy evidence.

Even broken windows should be left alone and if you see anything in your home that doesn’t belong there - perhaps a tool the thief may have used to gain entry - leave it alone and point it out to an officer when they arrive.

Thieves can leave footwear marks, too, so you should avoid walking around your home before the police arrive.

Write down important details immediately after

You’ll probably be in shock and, though it might not be the first thing you think of, write down any identifying details of the intruder/s, (if you saw them) while still fresh in your mind. These details could be helpful for the police to follow up on, like what they were wearing and their build.

Identify if anything’s clearly missing or damaged

Make a list of things that you can see are missing or damaged and give the list to the police (make a copy to give to your insurance company afterwards). Include details and descriptions of the stolen items and their value.

Take photographs and video footage of the damage to your home, plus where items have gone missing. You can show this to your insurance company to help prove the extent of what has happened.

Call your home insurance provider

As soon as you’ve reported the burglary to the police, you should ring your insurance company to let them know what’s happened.

Most insurance companies have tight time limits on how quickly you need to file a claim - usually it’s within 24 hours of reporting the incident to the police. So don’t delay.

Your insurer will talk you through the claims process and let you know exactly what they need from you. This will include detailed information about what’s been stolen and damaged, a police crime reference number and possibly photographic and/or video evidence, as well as proof of purchase receipts.

Change your locks and get windows mended

If you have smashed windows or broken door locks, find out if they’re covered under your home policy. If they are, take photos of the damage. Arrange for emergency repairs if necessary and keep receipts so you can claim back the costs.

How to deter burglars

After your home’s been burgled, it can take a while to feel safe again. You’ll probably want to look at improving your home security. There’s plenty more you can do to help protect your home and prevent yourself being a victim of crime in the future.

For example:

Install a burglar alarm

Be sure to activate the alarm whenever you go out, but also remember to switch on the alarm at night. Many systems have ‘pet-friendly’ sensors which allow your pets to roam the house without setting off the alarm.

Install CCTV

Thieves are far less likely to target homes with CCTV cameras as they don’t want to risk being captured on screen and identified.

Install outdoor lighting

Low wattage outdoor lighting or motion sensor lights can stop potential thieves from hiding in darkness outside your home.

Install better locks on your doors, windows and outbuildings

Locks manufactured to British standards (BS3621) are recommended by insurers as being secure. You can also add locks to ground floor windows if you don’t already have them. If in doubt, contact the Master Locksmiths Association for advice on the best type of secure locking for your doors and windows.

Keep expensive items out of sight

Thieves are often opportunistic, so if they spot something through a window - or even see the packaging for new, expensive items outside your home - they may be tempted.

Keep car and house keys out of sight

Keep keys away from the view of windows, and try not to store them anywhere ‘obvious’ like a key rack, or near the door, where they could be reached easily from outside. Don’t leave spare keys under an outside doormat or flowerpot either.

Timer switches

Burglars see an unlit property as an easy target because it looks like there’s no one at home. Use timer switches to turn on lights, and even radios, when you’re not there.

Crime by area

You can find the latest crime statistics, including how many burglaries have occurred in your area, on the police.uk website.

Unfortunately, if you live in an area with a high crime rate, your home insurance premiums will likely be higher.

Am I allowed to defend myself if someone breaks into my house?

The police would generally advise that you don’t challenge an intruder, but to call 999 immediately.

However, you are entitled to use reasonable force to protect yourself if a crime is taking place in your home and if you are in fear for yourself and others.

There’s no hard and fast definition of what ‘reasonable force’ is. It depends on the circumstances. But, according to the Crown Prosecution Service, as long as you only do what you instinctively believe is necessary in the heat of the moment, it would provide strong evidence that you acted lawfully and in self-defence. 

If you use ‘grossly disproportionate force’, the law wouldn’t protect you. The CPS uses the example that if you’d knocked an intruder unconscious and then went on to kick and punch them repeatedly, such an action would be more likely to be considered grossly disproportionate.

Will home insurance cover me if I break into my own house?

If you’ve locked your keys inside your house, or your key is broken in the lock and you can't get in, it’s best not to try to break into your home as you could cause unnecessary damage - to yourself and your home.

Some home insurance policies cover house keys as standard. Otherwise, there are ‘key cover’ policies that can be added to a main policy that cover the cost of helping you get into your home safely in these circumstances.

This sort of cover can pay out for a locksmith to come to your home to cut a new key so you can gain access, plus the cost of repair or replacement of locks.

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