What to do with your home insurance if you’ve been impacted by a bushfire

Posted: 6 January 2020 4:46 pm

Raging fire

Learn what's covered by your insurance and how to make a claim if your property is damaged by bushfires.

This summer's bushfire season has damaged thousands of properties throughout Australia. If you have home and contents insurance, you may be able to claim repairs and rebuilding under your policy.

Insurance covers that you may be able to claim as a result of bushfire damage includes home building insurance for any destruction to the building and home contents insurance that covers your belongings. Motor Vehicle Insurance could also cover you if the bushfires have damaged your car, caravan, motorbike or other eligible vehicles.

If your home has been impacted by the fires or your property is at risk, you can read this guide for a checklist of the steps you can take to safely assess your property, make a claim and get back on your feet.

1. If you've not been impacted yet but you're at risk

As you're preparing your emergency supplies kit, collect copies of your insurance policies, recent valuation reports, identification and bank account records. You can either store these electronically (such as on a file hosting service or a folder in your email inbox) or physically in a waterproof folder that you can keep in your emergency kit. Having this information on hand will make it easier to make a claim if your property is damaged by bushfires.

If you can't find your insurance paperwork, don't panic. Your insurer will have electronic records of your policy and will only need your name and address to help you. The Insurance Council of Australia has also set up a disaster hotline if you need help locating your insurer. You can contact them on 1800 734 621 or visit www.disasters.org.au for more information.

2. Seek an evacuation centre or short-term accommodation

If you've been told to evacuate, stay up to date with local radio or news programs for details on nearby evacuation centres. Before you leave, close doors and windows, fill the sinks with water and move outdoor furniture away from the house.

Pack food, water and your survival kits in your car and head to your closest Neighbourhood Safer Place (NSP). Listen to local radio stations, news programs and instructions from the rural fire service for the closest relief and recovery centres.

See point six for further information about longer-term accommodation if your home is damaged by the bushfires.

3. Call your insurer

If you've been evacuated and fear that your home or belongings are lost in the bushfires, contact your insurer as soon as possible. This will help get your claim processed sooner. The more information you have about your policy, the damage to your property and what you'd like to claim, the better.

You'll also need to inform your insurer if you're in the process of organising repairs for the property. Depending on where you live, your property may fall under the Insurance Council of Australia's "catastrophic" definition. If so, your claim should be prioritized by your insurer.

4. Return home and document the damage

Your safety is the priority, so you should only return to your property once you've received permission from the authorities to do so. If your home is too damaged to enter, don't risk it to avoid injuring yourself. If you can enter your property, look out for hazards including live electricity, leaking gas or burning embers.

Take as many photos as you can to help demonstrate the damage to your insurer. Snap pictures of the exterior, the interior and contents as well as any other buildings on your property. If you can, make a list of the specific models or serial numbers of damaged electronics and devices.

If your property has lost power, you may want to clear any spoiled food from your fridge. Take photographs of the contents of your fridge and make a list of lost supplies with an estimated value to include with your claim. Unless you're told otherwise, you should also avoid drinking or using any water in case the supply is contaminated.

Although it may be tempting, avoid cleaning up until you've spoken to your insurer. This is because any unauthorised repairs are unlikely to be covered. Instead, contact your insurer and inform them of any repair or rebuilding plans before you get started.

If your home is uninhabitable, make sure to secure it before you leave to protect against vandalism, looting and any other further damage. If your house is habitable, follow the Australian Red Cross public health guidelines regarding fire ash and the risk of damaged asbestos before you start the clean up.

5. Follow the claims process

Once you've made a claim, your insurer will send an assessor review the damage and gather information to see what you're eligible to receive cover for. Thousands of properties have been damaged by this summer's bushfires and insurers will be receiving an influx of requests, so this may take longer than usual. This is why it's important to document and photograph as much of the damage as you can.

When you're making a claim, be aware of common exclusions that might apply to your home insurance. For example, damage from scorching, burn marks or melting won't be covered where there has been no flame or burning building within 10 metres of your home.

Depending on the damage and your policy, the insurer will make a decision whether to repair, replace or cash settle a claim. They may ask how you would prefer to settle and you can try to negotiate. If you choose to rebuild, the insurer will be responsible for the repairs and will select the builders involved. But if you settle, be aware that the insurer will likely base your cash settlement on the lowest tender they've received and you may need to seek your own quotes if you want a higher settlement.

Want more tips on how to submit a home insurance claim? See this guide for a step-by-step guide.

6. Finding short term accommodation

If you have home and contents insurance, your policy may include a temporary accommodation benefit. If your home is destroyed or damaged in a way that makes it unlivable, your insurer may pay for temporary accommodation for you and your pets.

Insurers generally cover accommodation for a certain length of time for as long as your property is considered unlivable. For example, you may be covered for up to 12 months or for a specific percentage of your sum insured.

If your home has been damaged by the bushfires, your home and contents insurance can help you start your repairs without having to fork out to cover the costs. The cover that you're eligible for will vary depending on your situation and policy, so you should get in contact with your insurance provider to get started.

Picture: GettyImages

Resources for those impacted by the Australian bushfires

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