Where to turn to for financial help during the bushfire crisis

Posted: 6 January 2020 7:03 pm
News

Dark smoke cloud from bushfires billowing behind row of houses

Australia is in the midst of a horror bushfire season, with relentless blazes across New South Wales, Victoria and South Australia.

Thousands of homes have been damaged or destroyed as a result of the fires, leaving countless Aussies in need of financial assistance.

If you or someone you know has been affected by the recent bushfires, below are some resources you can turn to for financial help.

Department of Human Services

If you've been impacted by bushfires in disaster-declared areas, you can access financial support through the Department of Human Services Bushfires hub.

Disaster Recovery Allowance

This is a short-term payment to make up for lost income as a result of the fires. You can receive it for a period of up to 13 weeks and it's payable from the date you lose income. If you receive the Disaster Recovery Allowance, you may also be able to access the Beneficiary Tax Offset.

The maximum payment rate is equivalent to Newstart or Youth Allowance, depending on your personal circumstances. Applicants have up until 1 July 2020 to lodge a claim. This is available for NSW, VIC, SA and QLD residents.

Australian Government Disaster Recovery Payment

This is a one-off payment of $1,000 for adults and $400 for children who have been adversely affected by the recent bushfires in NSW, QLD or SA. Applicants have until 1 July 2020 to lodge a claim.

Ex-Gratia Payments

These are available for eligible New Zealand residents who have been affected by bushfires.

How to make a claim through the Department of Human Services

  • Claims can be made over the phone. You can contact the department on 180-22-66. Phone lines are open between 8am and 5pm (including weekends).
  • You'll need to provide supporting documents within 28 days of making the claim. These can include proof of a hospital admission or damage to your home. You'll also need to provide proof of identity documents, like a photocopied version of your driver's licence or passport.
  • You can submit forms or supporting documents at your nearest service centre. You can also mail them to Emergency Processing Centre, Reply Paid 7815, Canberra BC ACT 2610.

Emergency Bushfire Response in Primary Industries Grants Program

If you're a farmer, primary producer or a forestry business affected by the fires, you may be eligible for a grant of up to $75,000. This is part of the federal government's $100 million bushfire funding grants package.

Grants are being provided by the Commonwealth and distributed through to state governments. Further details will be announced as soon as state-based delivery arrangements are confirmed.

In the meantime, Contact 1800-900-009 for further information on the bushfire grants program.

Disaster Recovery Grants (NSW)

Eligible primary producers, small businesses and not-for-profit organisations may receive a disaster recovery grant of up to $15,000. You must have been affected by the recent bushfires from 31 August 2019 onwards. Applications close 3 July 2020.

Visit the Rural Assistance Authority's Disaster Assistance page for more information.

Australian Red Cross

If you've recently lost your home in the bushfires, you may be eligible for a grant of up to $2,000. Grants are available to people whose homes have been destroyed or rendered uninhabitable since July 2019.

How to apply

  • Visit the Red Cross Emergency Grants – Australian Bushfires page and register your contact details.
  • You'll need to supply relevant documents that prove your identity and place of residence.
  • Once you've applied, the Red Cross will follow up on any claim requests made from 6 January 2020 onwards. This will include verifying information provided and checking proof of residence.
  • Red Cross grants will be open until 1 April 2020.

The Salvation Army

The Salvation Army is working with state and local government to provide support to affected communities. Forms of assistance may vary from state to state, but typically include the below:

  • Financial assistance
  • Emotional wellbeing and support services
  • Information, referrals and advice

You can contact the Salvation Army Disasters Assistance team on 1300-662-217 or by emailing sal.disasters@salvationarmy.org.au. Visit the organisation's Bushfire support page for the latest updates.

Bank assistance packages

Australia's Big Four banks are offering financial support for NSW and QLD customers affected by the bushfires. Read on to find out if you're eligible.

Commonwealth Bank

CommBank is offering an Emergency Assistance Package for affected customers. If you've been directly impacted by the bushfires, you may be eligible for the below.

  • Emergency accommodation assistance
  • Waiving of selected fees
  • Consideration of additional loans (including emergency credit increases)
  • Fast-tracked insurance claims

To make a claim or find out more, contact CommBank's special assistance line on 1300-720-814, or 13-26-07 for businesses. You can also visit your nearest branch and speak to a representative.

NAB

NAB is providing a $1 million Disaster Relief Fund to help customers and employees affected by bushfires across the country. If you've recently lost your home, you may be you may be eligible for a $2,000 grant to help cover costs like temporary accommodation, food and clothing.

For information on how to access the grant, contact NAB on 1300-683-106. Lines are open from 8am–8pm Monday to Friday and 9am–1pm Saturday AEST/AEDT. Visit NAB's Natural disaster and crisis support page for more information.

ANZ

ANZ has a financial relief package available for customers affected by bushfires across the country. Features of the relief package include:

  • The ability to suspend loan repayments for up to three months
  • Temporary interest rate relief
  • Waiving of fees associated with restructuring business loans
  • Early access to term deposits without incurring a fee
  • ANZ home and contents insurance customers may also be eligible for measures around emergency funds and temporary accommodation

To contact ANZ's financial hardship team, call 1800-149-549 or visit anz.com/hardship.

Westpac

A Disaster Relief Package is available for Westpac customers in NSW and QLD who have been affected by the bushfires. The package offers various forms of help including the following:

  • The ability to defer repayments for up to three months
  • Access to personal loans at a discounted interest rate
  • Early access to term deposits without incurring a fee
  • Emergency accommodation assistance for insurance customers

To find out more, contact Westpac on 1800-067-497 or contact your local branch manager. You can also visit Westpac's Disaster Relief page.

Smaller banks and lenders are offering support too.

Suncorp

Is offering relief assistance options for bushfire affected customers including the following:

  • An opportunity to defer scheduled loan repayments (including interest only) on a case-by-case basis
  • Existing loan rearranging (for example, principal and interest to interest-only) with the waiver of establishment fees
  • Waive early withdrawal fees for customers wishing to withdraw from term deposits and/or Farm Management Deposits
  • Credit card repayment relief where necessary
  • Increasing emergency credit card limits
  • Working capital assistance
  • No interest rate increases

You can contact Suncorp direct on 13-11-55 for more information.

CUA (Credit Union Australia)

A Disaster Relief Package is available to members who have been impacted by the fires since November 2019. Support under the package includes the following:

  • The ability to suspend home and personal loan repayments for up to three months
  • Waiver of late fees for home and personal loan repayments
  • Waiver of term deposit break costs
  • Repayment relief and personalised solutions for credit cards (available on a case-by-case basis).
  • No fee charged for replacement credit cards
  • CUA Health customers can suspend their health insurance payments for three months with no interruption to health cover. The processing and payment of claims will also be prioritised.

Contact CUA on 133-282 or speak with your local branch manager. You can also visit CUA's Bushfire Support page.

Other service providers offering relief

Telco retailers

Optus, Telstra and Vodafone have all committed to waiving volunteer firefighters' phone bills for December and January.

Telstra

Telstra is offering free interim services for NSW, ACT and VIC customers and small businesses who have lost service as a result of the fires. Telstra is also offering free calls and Telstra Air Wi-Fi through local payphones in the wider community.

A Telstra hotline is available for customers who have had to evacuate or have recently lost their homes. Contact 132-203 for more information.

Optus

A hotline is available for volunteer firefighters and those affected by the bushfires. Dial 1300 301 671 for more information.

Vodafone

Vodafone volunteer firefighter customers can call 1300-650-410 or visit a store for a credit on their phone bill. This will cover service charges between December and January.

There's also a range of options available under Vodafone's hardship policy. This applies to any customers who have been directly impacted by the fires. Contact the financial hardship team on 1300-650-405.

Energy retailers

Energy Australia

Residential and small business customers who have been impacted by the fires can receive a "temporary freeze" on their accounts.

Priority assistance is available to customers who have recently lost their homes or been evacuated. You can contact the Energy Australia hotline 1800-120-084 or send a direct message via Facebook and Twitter.

AGL

Volunteer firefighters can receive a $150 credit per customer for their electricity or gas bills. AGL will also pause the bills for all customers affected by the bushfires.

For more information, you can contact AGL on 13-12-45.

Energy Locals

Special relief is being offered to volunteer firefighters and customers who have lost their homes. This includes waiving power bills and half-price membership offers. Visit https://energylocals.com.au/hardship for more information.

Insurance assistance

Lodging a claim can be stressful, especially when you're dealing with the emotional fallout of a natural disaster. Below are some quick tips to help simplify the process:

  • Your home insurance provider may be able to offer assistance when it comes to emergency accommodation.
  • It should also be the first point of contact in terms of home repairs and rebuilding (once it is declared safe to do so).
  • If you want further clarification around your policy, you can contact the Insurance Council of Australia Disaster Hotline 1800 734 621.
  • Community members can also enquire via www.disasters.org.au.

For up-to-date information on bushfire insurance, lodging a claim and where to donate, visit Finder's Bushfires and Home Insurance hub.

Resources for those impacted by the Australian bushfires

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