Disaster relief payments for people affected by Tropical Cyclone Seroja

ELLIE MCLACHLAN
There may be financial assistance available to members of the Western Australian community who’ve been affected by Tropical Cyclone Seroja. Here’s where to find help.
Kalbarri WA damaged home
Tropical Cyclone Seroja hit Kalbarri, WA. Image source: Breanna Greville, Southern Cross Austereo.

Residents of the popular tourist town of Kalbarri, about 600km north of Perth in Western Australia, are returning home to widespread and severe damage caused by Tropical Cyclone Seroja.

Up to 70% of properties in the area have been damaged, and about 40% of those are expected to have sustained major damage or been totally wiped out, according to the state’s Premier Mark McGowan, who described the destruction as “heartbreaking”.

Northhampton, south-east of Kalbarri, was also severely impacted by the cyclone, along with other communities along WA’s mid-west coast.

The weather system has now been downgraded to a tropical low and moved offshore near WA’s south coast, with emergency services working fast to restore widespread power outages.

WA Cyclone Seroja impact
Live map sourced from the DFES’ Emergency WA website at 1pm AWST, 13 April 2021.

The Australian Red Cross has set up online registrations to help evacuees reunite with their loved ones, and evacuation centres have been set up at Dongara, Carnarvon and Shark Bay-Denham. The latest status of the unfolding recovery situation can be found at the Department of Fire & Emergency Services’ (DFES) EmergencyWA website.

Some organisations are already on standby to provide emergency financial assistance now and in the wake of the disaster recovery efforts. Here’s more information about some of the funding available, and how to apply.

In this story:

Disaster recovery payments from the government

Services Australia has payments and services available if you’re recovering from a major disaster, having recently provided funds to people recovering from the NSW floods. Information about how the Australian Government Disaster Recovery Payment and Disaster Recovery Allowance may apply for WA residents impacted by Cyclone Seroja was recently made available, with Federal Emergency Services Minister David Littleproud announcing that a disaster recovery payment of $1,000 per adult and $400 per child would be available to eligible residents, along with an additional support payment of $800 per family offered in conjunction with the WA Government.

Services Australia has ‘crisis and special help’ support available to people in severe financial hardship and recovering from a disaster, including one-off crisis payments. Head to its website on help in an emergency for more information as the situation develops.

Emergency assistance such as food and temporary accommodation, or personal and financial counselling, may also be available to impacted WA residents via the DFES’ Disaster Recovery Funding Arrangements.

Insurers to prioritise claims after “catastrophe” declaration

The Insurance Council of Australia (ICA), which is the peak body for insurance providers in Australia, has declared an insurance “catastrophe” for the impacted parts of WA from Tropical Cyclone Seroja. This means policyholders in those areas will be prioritised for assistance with claims and assessments from their insurer. The ICA has activated its disaster hotline to offer assistance to policyholders if they are uncertain of their insurance details or have general enquiries about the claims process – the number is 1800 734 621.

Importantly, this event has impacted a region not normally affected by cyclones, and the destruction of the built environment is “severe”, ICA CEO Andrew Hall said.

Mr Hall said insurers had received just over 700 claims so far, but there is no estimated loss in dollar terms yet, because many severely-impacted areas are currently inaccessible. The ICA expects a substantial increase in claims as soon as telecommunications and power are restored to affected areas in the coming days. Assessors are waiting to move into affected communities as soon as emergency services give the go-ahead.

If you hold home and contents insurance, it could be worth contacting your provider to see if it can provide emergency funds and temporary accommodation, either now (if you live in an area affected by Cyclone Seroja) or in future should a natural disaster occur in your area.

Big four banks offer loan deferrals and fee waivers

Australia’s four major banks have responded to the severe weather events in WA by rolling out emergency assistance packages for households and businesses. Bank Australia, Bankwest, Bendigo Bank, ING, St. George and Suncorp are offering similar emergency assistance, such as debt consolidation and loan repayment deferrals. It could be worth reaching out to your bank to see what support may be available.

Here are some details on what’s included in each major bank’s assistance package:

ANZ

  • Pausing payments for up to three months on home loans, credit cards, personal loans and some business loans (ANZ may still charge you interest during that period)
  • Temporary interest rate reductions on lending for customers experiencing extreme financial distress
  • Waiving fees for restructuring business loans
  • Waiving fees for accessing term deposits early.

Customers can also contact ANZ’s insurance team on dedicated financial hardship team on 1800 149 549 or via the bank’s website.

Customers with home and contents insurance with ANZ may be eligible for emergency funds and temporary accommodation. To lodge an insurance claim, customers can call 13 16 14 or visit the website.

Commonwealth Bank

  • Customised payment arrangements for your home loan, credit card, business or personal loan
  • Waiving some fees and charges
  • Temporary overdrafts, additional loans or emergency credit limit increases (subject to credit approval)
  • Waiving fees and notice periods for early access to term deposits
  • For CommInsure customers, the bank is able to assist with emergency accommodation if your home has been damaged
  • CommBank said it can also expedite claims to CommInsure for customers seeking help through their home and contents insurance
  • Other individual support options may also be available to you.

Commonwealth Bank customers and business customers can call 1800 314 615 to access support.

National Australia Bank

  • Credit card and personal loan relief
  • Waiving the application fee for restructuring business facilities
  • Deferral of some business loan payments
  • Waiving costs and charges for withdrawing term deposits early (including farm management deposits)
  • Concessional loans to customers seeking support to restructure existing facilities to assist in repairs, restocking and re-opening for business
  • Offering reduction on home loan and personal loan repayments or moratorium
  • NAB Assist tele-consults for customers
  • Wellbeing support service for colleagues and customers.

Customers can call NAB Assist on 1800 701 599 or visit the bank’s website for support. Business customers can call 1300 961 577. For emergency claims or general insurance queries, customers should call 1300 555 013. For property and motor vehicle insurance assistance, customers can call 132 652.

Westpac

  • Home loan customers may apply to defer repayments for up to three months.
  • Credit card customers may request to defer repayments for up to 90 days.
  • Customers wishing to purchase replacement goods may apply for a personal loan at a
    discounted interest rate with no establishment fee.
  • The bank will waive interest rate adjustments for customers wishing to withdraw term deposits.
  • Business customers may request loan restructuring with no fees incurred.

Retail and business customers who need assistance can contact Westpac Assist on 1800 067 497.

Customers with home and contents insurance with Westpac may be able to receive emergency funds and temporary accommodation, and can contact the bank on 1300 369 989.

Telstra

Telstra’s disaster assistance team is available for support on 1800 888 888. The telco is currently offering the following financial assistance to its customers:

Short-term measures (for Telstra customers who have suffered a short-term impact, evacuation or fault):

  • Free use of Telstra public payphones in the affected areas
  • Free call diversion from an affected fixed home or business phone service to another fixed or mobile service of the customer’s choice, regardless of the carrier
  • A 25GB data pack for post-paid mobile customers (30-day expiry, not transferable to another service)
  • 25GB data and free calls for pre-paid mobile customers (30-day expiry, not transferable to another service)

Long-term measures (for Telstra customers who have suffered severe damage to or loss of their premises):

  • Free call diversion from the customer’s Telstra fixed phone service to another Australian fixed or mobile service of their choice, regardless of the carrier. This offer is applicable for a maximum period of six months from the date of the incident.
  • In addition, Telstra will apply a one-off credit up to the value of $500 (including GST) to the customer’s Telstra fixed phone account to help cover the costs of the following, if required:
    • Connection of a Telstra fixed phone service at one temporary residence
    • Re-connection of a Telstra fixed phone service at the customer’s original permanent premises

National Debt Helpline for free legal and financial advice

The National Debt Helpline is open to provide assistance to those in financial difficulty as a result of the cyclone. It is a not-for-profit service for people struggling with insurance or other financial matters who need to speak with a lawyer or financial counsellor. People can call the helpline for free advice on 1800 007 007, from 9.30am to 4.30pm Monday to Friday.

 

This story has been updated with new details of financial support options available to WA residents.


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Ellie McLachlan is a former Senior News Journalist at Canstar. She was responsible for breaking financial news on mortgages, money and much more. Ellie studied a Bachelor of Journalism and Arts at UQ and has worked at major metropolitan and regional news organisations.

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