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How to prepare an insurance claim if your property has been damaged in Australia’s bushfires

Posted: 6 January 2020 12:12 pm
News

Car and house destroyed by fire.

Helpful tips for documenting bushfire damage and making an insurance claim.

This summer's catastrophic fires have already destroyed or damaged thousands of Australian homes.

The insurance claims process is the last thing anyone who has just lost their home wants to deal with. Unfortunately, it can't be avoided.

If you need to make a home insurance claim because of the bushfires, here are some tips to help.

1. Don't return to your property until it is safe to do so

If you live in an area where fires are still active it may not be safe to return home. Where possible, avoid returning home until you're told by authorities that it's safe to do so.

If your home is not safe to live in after the fire you should seek shelter elsewhere. Check if your insurer covers temporary housing costs as part of your policy.

2. Document the damage to your property with photos and videos

Once you're able to return home you need to document damage to your property as evidence for your claim.

Take photographs or videos of specific points of damage to your home, including the building itself and the contents of your home. If possible, back up your documented photos and videos to a cloud-based account or external device so you have extra copies.

Document the damage before you start removing debris (unless it's extremely dangerous). If you need to discard damaged items immediately keep samples of material (of burnt fabric, for example) and photograph clearly.

If you're able to find receipts of purchases or other paperwork you should collect this too.

Obviously it's hard to salvage receipts or paperwork from a fire-damaged property. But the more information you have the better, such as a recent valuation report, receipts and information about damaged goods (model and serial numbers of electronics, for example).

Be sure to check your email for digital receipts for recent purchases as well.

3. Be careful when assessing your property

Keep your own safety in mind when assessing and documenting damage to your property. If your home is too damaged to enter, don't risk it. Photograph the external damage and avoid injuring yourself.

You might be tempted to start cleaning up but that can impact whether your claim is approved. Unauthorised work, even an emergency repair, is unlikely to be covered by your insurer so don't get started on any repairs or rebuilding until you get the green light.

4. Contact your insurer as soon as possible

Getting in touch with your insurer fast will help you get your claim processed sooner. Also, the more information you have the better. Your insurer may offer temporary accommodation or have assessors visiting your area soon.

You'll also need to notify your insurer if you're organising repairs to the property.

Depending on where you live, your property may fall under the Insurance Council of Australia's "catastrophic" definition. According to ICA Head of Risk and Operations Karl Sullivan this means "claims from these bushfires will be prioritised by all insurers, and they will be focusing on reducing the immense emotional and financial stress experienced by residents and businesses".

5. Don't panic if you've lost your insurance paperwork

Your insurer will have secure electronic records of your insurance policy. So even if you can't find policy paperwork, or you've lost it, your insurer can still help you.

The Insurance Council of Australia has also established a disaster hotline for general information about claims and help locating your insurer if you've lost or forgotten your details. The hotline is 1800 734 621. You can also visit www.disasters.org.au.

6. Submit your claim

You should try and submit a claim as soon as you can. Every insurer has a slightly different process, but the steps for submitting an insurance claim typically involve the following:

  1. Get a claims form. Visit your insurer's website or call them for specific details. Most insurers have an online form, or allow you to file by mail or email.
  2. File a claim. Complete the form and attach relevant documented evidence of any damage to your home and contents.
  3. Wait for the claim to process. Your insurer will need time to process your claim. During this time they may contact you to confirm details or send an assessor to your home.

Hopefully your insurer will accept your claim. If this doesn't happen you have the option of filing an internal dispute with your insurer. And if that doesn't work you can also file a complaint with the Australian Financial Complaints Authority.

Keep up with our Australian bushfires coverage

Resources for those impacted by the Australian bushfires

Latest home insurance headlines

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