The world’s been watching aghast in recent months as Australia burns. The fires appear to have been the worst to hit our sunburned country in decades. This year, Australia’s bushfire season tragically claimed the lives of 33 people and some estimates suggest over a billion animals were lost from our environment. This year’s horrific bushfires destroyed or damaged an unprecedented area of Australian bushland – along with thousands of households and businesses that stood in the path of the flames.
Now, as the welcome rains are making Australia’s fires more manageable, many victims are left surveying the damage and wondering what to do next.
If you’ve been a victim of the fires or your home or business in Victoria has sustained fire damage, what should you do? Of course, the experience can be devastating emotionally – and those wounds can take time to heal. Nothing will bring back lost memories or in the worst case, the tragic loss of family members and pets.
If you’re among the many Australians whose bushfire losses are largely financial, there are some practical steps you can take to get back on track as soon as possible.
Check What You Can Claim on Your Insurance
The first step is to dig out any insurance policy you might hold to find out if you can claim on it. This might be hard if the paperwork was lost in the fire. But if you can remember what company you took out insurance with and the value of your Melbourne home then you might be able to give them a call to find out what to do next.
The key questions you’ll want to answer are ‘Did I have contents insurance to protect the belongings inside my home as well as the home itself?, and ‘Are Australia wildfires covered by my insurance policy?’ Some insurance clauses cancel a payout in the event of a natural disaster. Insurers are still struggling to address climate risk and often their solution is simply to decline to cover it.
Can You Claim an Advance?
If you’re fortunate to have been covered by the right insurance, making your claim can take time. Insurance companies have to carry out an investigation to make sure everything is in order.
The good news is that many insurers are providing expedited payments to this year’s bushfire victims, so you may not have to wait too long.
When you talk with your insurer, be sure to ask whether you can claim an advance on your insurance given the extreme circumstances.
In the meantime keep track of all the receipts for any new goods you buy so you can claim them in the future.
If you’re tempted to use the budget from insurance to upgrade your goods and treat yourself to a little luxury, think again! The insurance companies’ policies state you must keep roughly the same standard of goods you had before.
Money May be Available Through Goodwill and Charity
The unfortunate reality is that some 80% of homeowners in our country are probably underinsured for the Bushfire season, according to the Insurance Council of Australia. With thousands of homes destroyed or damaged, homeowners stand to lose many millions through having insufficient, or worse, no insurance at all.
Fortunately, if you find yourself under insured and facing financial hardship as a result of the fires there are a lot of options on hand to help you get things back on track.
Australian Banks’ Bushfire Emergency Relief Packages
It’s great to see that Australia’s banks have all extended a big helping hand to fire-damaged communities across the country. In early January this year, the Australian Bankers Association (ABA) announced a raft of changes to support credit card, home loan, home insurance and personal loan customers affected by the bushfires.
Depending on which Big 4 bank or banks you’re with, these may include relief in the form of:
- Waived fees on some transactions
- Suspended or deferred loan repayments for a number of months
- Temporary interest rate relief on credit cards and loans
- Access to cash grants
- Emergency accommodation assistance
- Expedited insurance claims
Not with the Big Four? No problem. A range of smaller banks and lenders are offering support packages of their own. Simply google the name of your bank or lender and the term ‘bushfire support’ or ‘bushfire relief’. You should easily find a detailed description of the support available with your bank or lenders. Failing that just get in touch with your bank or lender and talk to them directly.
Because of the high profile nature of the Australian wildfires, there’s now a lot of money from donors and charities available to help those in need. Benefactors from here and around the world have generously donated hundreds of millions of dollars to help out.
Get in touch with charities to see how they can help you. You can visit the Urgent Appeal Australian Bushfires page on Go Fund Me and find various funds that have received donations from all over the world. You can explore each of these funds and see whether you may qualify for their support.
Alternatively, you can set up a GoFundMe page of your own or a payment link on a site like www.patreon.com so that people can pay directly into your bank account.
When setting up your payment page, providing a detailed account of what the money will be used for and posting pictures of how badly burned out your house or business are can go a long way to persuading people to donate.
It can be hard to overcome the feeling of guilt at asking other people, including strangers, for money – but if you’re facing financial difficulty, you must overcome this feeling.
Sometimes not asking for help after an event like this can cause greater long term damage than the flames itself. Be sure to act fast and get your life back on track as soon as possible.
Consider Staying with Friends or Family for a While
If your house has been badly burned out by the Australia fires, assuming you have the finances to cover repairs, you may need to relocate while the repairs are being made. It helps to have a plan for this and other contingencies in place before you need it.
It’s important to manage any available funds carefully during your rebuilding period, to cover the unexpected costs.
So if you need to relocate temporarily, you might consider staying with friends and family for a while. This way you won’t be wasting money on hotel bills and other expenses. Given the high-profile publicity of the Australia fires, it’s likely that if you explain the situation to friends and family, you’ll find someone who is able to put you up.
Look for other ways to reduce your outgoings during this period, until your finances are back on track.
Replace Important Documents
If there were important documents that were lost in the fire it’s important that you have these replaced as soon as possible.
Without a passport, birth certificate or driving license it can be difficult to prove who you are. Although your insurer will work hard to help you even if your documents are gone, it’s generally helpful to have damaged or destroyed documents replaced as fast as possible.
For future reference, it’s always good to have digital photos of all important docs stored somewhere safe. These can be used in many cases as a temporary measure while you’re chasing up your replacement documents.
If you’re worried about where your replacement documents will be sent and stored while you sort out your burned out home or business, you might ask a trusted friend if they can take receipt and hold them for you.
Failing this getting yourself a secure post office box address or a safety deposit box in a bank might be another way to secure your valuable documents.
Australia Fire Damage: Explore Every Avenue
If you’ve been affected by fire damage due to this year’s Australian bushfires, the most important thing you can do is to act quickly.
Reach out to your friends and family as well as your credit card company, banks and insurance companies. By explaining the situation you may find that there’s a lot more help available to you than you think.
Want to find out more? See how our insights could help you get back on track after the setback like this and structure your finances and business for optimum resilience in the future. Get in touch today for an introductory consultation call that’s tailored for your situation.
We’ll explain what potential solutions and strategies could work for you. We’ll give you the rundown on how we could help. Then we’ll leave it up to you to decide whether we’re a good fit and how you’d like to move forward.
Disclaimer: This article provides general information only and has been prepared without taking into account your objectives, financial situation or needs. We recommend that you consider whether it is appropriate for your circumstances and your full financial situation will need to be reviewed prior to acceptance of any offer or product. It does not constitute legal, tax or financial advice and you should always seek professional advice in relation to your individual circumstances.
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