Older people can feel vulnerable in their own homes. But there are a many of ways to stay safe. Robert Mair reports.

Although newspaper reports about crimes against older people appear with alarming regularity, the government claims older people are no more at risk than any other group in society. Indeed, it should be remembered that burglaries and attacks are rare.

But for all older people, security is a perennial worry. So what can you do to feel safer in your own home?

In this article:

  1. Distraction burglars and bogus callers
  2. Rogue traders
  3. Identification
  4. Lock, Stop, Chain, Check
  5. Security schemes
  6. Keep important telephone numbers close to the phone
  7. Home security
  8. Property appearance
  9. Technology
  10. Empowerment

Distraction burglars and bogus callers

The most common crime against older people in their own homes is carried out by distraction burglars or bogus callers.

They trick people by pretending to be someone in a position of authority, such as the council, water board or electricity company, and need to get into the premises to perform urgent checks.

They may work in pairs, with one distracting the person and the second entering the property by the back door or through a window and they will often be convincing and seem genuine.

If you are not expecting a visitor, you should always be cautious and if in doubt talk to people through the door. Always make sure your back door is locked before opening your front door.

If you have been the victim of a bogus caller or distraction burglar, you should notify the police. These people may have struck before in the neighbourhood.

Rogue traders

Rogue traders will often try to convince you that work needs to be carried out on your home.

To check whether you need work carried out on your home, ask a close friend, relative or carer to get three quotes from reputable companies – a list of which can be found on the Trading Standards website or registered on the Trustmark scheme.


When answering the door to a stranger, you should always ask for identification. If you need to get your glasses to read the card, lock the door while you get them.

Similarly, if calling the organisation direct will allay any fears, you should do this. But never call the number on their identification card because this could be part of a set-up – always call the numbers listed in the Yellow Pages or phone book.

Lock, Stop, Chain, Check

Follow the ‘Lock, Stop, Chain and Check’ procedure:

  • Lock – Keep your front and back doors locked, even when at home
  • Stop – Are you expecting anyone?
  • Chain – If you decide to open the door, put the door chain on first
  • Check – Ask for the caller's ID and check it by phone

Security schemes

Numerous security schemes are available, such as:

  • Nominated Neighbour schemes. A card displayed by the resident instructs the caller to visit or call a nominated friend (it does not have to be a neighbour, it can be a relative or carer) to verify their details. They are then accompanied onto the premises if they are nearby, or have to arrange an alternative visit when they can be supervised.
  • Handy person schemes. Many local authorities will run schemes which will provide reputable and accredited plumbers, handymen, gardeners and locksmiths.
  • Password schemes. Some companies run password schemes, which enable workers to identify themselves at your door. You give the company a password, and their representative repeats it to you when they arrive at your door to prove they are genuine.

Keep important telephone numbers close to the phone

It is a good idea to keep useful telephone numbers in a book close to the phone, or even add them to the speed-dial function if the phone has one. Useful telephone numbers might include:

  • Next of kin
  • ICE (In Case of Emergency) number
  • Your utility services – for example gas, electric, water, telephone
  • The local police station
  • Crimestoppers
  • The local council
  • Trading Standards
  • Your Nominated Neighbour number
  • Number of your carer or home help (if you have one)

Home security

Successfully securing your house will make you feel far safer in your own home – and harder for would-be intruders to break in. Numerous devices are available and should be fitted to make sure you remain safe.

Security devices include:

  • Door chain
  • Spyglass
  • Door locks
  • Window locks

Property appearance

You should ensure your property is well-kept, and if you are unable to tend the garden you should get a close friend or relative to do it for you. Overgrown gardens can hide potential burglars from public view – so keeping the home in good condition may discourage people from targeting your property.


There are a two hi-tech devices that can help you stay safe in your own home, and can be easily fitted by a friend or relative:

  • A ‘Memo Minder’. This is an infra-red device that can be wall-mounted close to the front door, and is triggered when you move in front of it. A pre-recorded message can then remind you to bolt the door, ask for ID and not let unknown people into the house.
  • Intercom systems. Audio and video intercom systems allow people to have conversations with people outside without having to open the door.


Family members and carers can play a vital role in ensuring older people remain safe in their own home by reinforcing the message of best practice on the doorstep – especially if the person gets confused easily.