Financial assistance available for Australians affected by devastating bushfires

ELLIE MCLACHLAN
A number of organisations have made financial assistance available to communities impacted by the bushfire emergencies devastating parts of Australia.
Bushfire financial assistance Australia Jan 2020
Source: Karl Hofman (Shutterstock).

Australians experiencing financial hardship as a result of the bushfires may be able to get help with the costs of repairing damaged property (even if uninsured), paying their mortgage, buying emergency supplies and replacing important identity documents. Here’s more information about some of the funding and how to apply.

Australian Bushfire information and updates: Resources here.

Australian Red Cross: Emergency grants for people who have lost their home in a bushfire

An influx of generous donations from people all over the world, aimed at supporting Aussies affected by the drought and bushfire emergencies ravaging the country, has enabled the Red Cross to increase its emergency grant from $2,000 to $5,000 per household for people who lost their homes.

The grant, available from Monday, 6 January, is open to Australians whose primary place of residence has been destroyed or rendered uninhabitable because of a bushfire between 1 July 2019 to 28 February 2020.

How to apply?

Visit the Red Cross online to register your contact details. The Red Cross will contact you to request evidence of your identity and proof of residence, via documents such as a driver’s licence and electricity bill.

Related stories:
Does your home and contents insurance include fire protection?
How to make a bushfire insurance claim
12 ways to reduce bushfire risk to older homes
Bushfires to coronavirus – What is a P2 mask?

Banks: Emergency bushfire packages available

The Australian Banking Association (ABA) announced on Friday, 3 January an assistance package for communities impacted by natural disasters, including the catastrophic bushfires.

Affected bank customers experiencing financial difficulties can have their loan repayments deferred, fees and charges waived and existing loans restructured at a suite of ABA member banks, including the big four banks – Commonwealth Bank, National Australia Bank, Westpac and ANZ – as well as ING, Bendigo and Adelaide Bank, Bank of Queensland, Suncorp, Macquarie Bank and more.

ANZ, Commonwealth Bank, NAB and Westpac have also pledged millions of dollars in additional disaster relief:

  • ANZ pledged $1 million for bushfire relief, going to volunteer fire services, local community services, home loan customers who have lost their home to the fires and the funding of community counselling services.
  • Commonwealth Bank extended its Emergency Assistance Package to provide financial support and emergency accommodation to its personal and business customers affected by the bushfires, to include volunteer firefighters. It is also accepting donations in its branches to go towards its bushfire recovery grants, available up to $50,000 per grant.
  • NAB increased its bushfire recovery funds for customers and employees to $4 million for emergency grants and extended the money to impacted business owners and farmers.
  • Westpac will pay mortgage repayments for one year, up to $1,200 per month, for its customers who have lost their principal place of residence due to the bushfires. Its support package also includes interest-free home loans for customers who need to rebuild, low-interest loans for business and $3 million in emergency grants.

Smaller lender Homestar also announced a financial care package which would include relief from interest charged for a three-month period and for up to 12 months for loan repayments. It is available to its customers who are volunteer firefighters, have damaged property or have lost employment due to the bushfire crisis. Customers can call the Homestar hotline on 1300 099 382 to find out more.

Bank of Sydney said it could also provide financial assistance. Customers can enquire online or call 13 95 00.

It could be worthwhile getting in contact with your financial institution to see if they can help. The degree of financial assistance available may depend on what type of financial products a customer holds with their bank.

Contact details for banks offering financial assistance

Below are the contact details (phone and information pages) of financial hardship teams at each ABA member bank:

Government: Natural disaster relief and recovery assistance

There is a range of federal and state government financial assistance programs available to people impacted by the bushfires, including the Australian Government Disaster Recovery Payment (AGDRP), the Disaster Recovery Allowance (DRA), financial support for volunteer firefighters, and income support or disaster recovery payment for eligible New Zealand visa holders.

Australian Government Disaster Recovery Payment

The AGDRP provides a one-off payment of $1,000 per eligible adult and $400 per eligible child.

According to the government, it is available for people who have been seriously injured, have lost their homes or whose homes have been directly damaged. Immediate family members of a person who has died as a direct result of the bushfires can also apply for the payment.

How to apply?

Visit the Department of Human Services website to see if your local government area is on the list for assistance and apply there, or call the hotline on 180 22 66 by 21 June, 2020.

Disaster Recovery Allowance

The DRA provides income support payments for up to 13 weeks, up to the applicable rate of Newstart or Youth Allowance, depending on your circumstances.

Applicants for funding may be required to show they lost income because of the fires. It is open to Australian residents who are at least 16 years old, but not to anyone who already receives another income support payment or pension.

How to apply?

Visit the Department of Human Services website to see if your local government area is on the list for assistance and apply there, or call the hotline on 180 22 66 by 21 June, 2020.

For more information about the disaster assistance available in your area, check out the government’s Disaster Assist page, which is updated with current funding and support information in each state and territory.

Bushfire recovery fund

The federal government also announced plans on Monday, 6 January to establish a $2 billion national bushfire recovery fund to help rebuild and support communities once the fire emergency has passed, similar to the Black Saturday recovery in 2009 and the North Queensland flood efforts in 2019. The funds will be distributed across a range of measures, including:

Free counselling – $10.5 million

The government has allocated $76 million for mental health, part of which ($10.5 million) will be used to provide up to 10 free counselling sessions for people affected by the bushfires. This will also be available to people who have been working emergency services staff.

Primary producers – $100 million

The government has allocated $100 million for primary producers, which will be used to provide grants of up to $75,000 to farm, fish and forestry businesses in fire-affected regions. The money could be used to supply water, rebuild fencing, hire water pumps, repair irrigation systems and more.

ATO: tax payment relief

According to the Australia Taxation Office (ATO), it will automatically defer any lodgements or payments for people who live in one of the identified postcodes impacted by the bushfires. If your postcode isn’t on that list, the ATO says to call 1800 806 218 for help.

Support available from the ATO, according to its website, includes:

  • Extra time to pay debt or lodge tax forms, such as activity statements.
  • Help finding your lost tax file number by using identity verification methods such as asking for your date of birth, address and bank account details.
  • Re-issue income tax returns, activity statements and notices of assessment
  • Help you re-construct tax records lost or damaged in the bushfires.
  • Fast track any refunds you are owed.
  • Set up a payment plan tailored to your circumstances, including an interest-free period.
  • Remit penalties or interest charged during the time you have been affected by the bushfires.

 

Financial assistance available in your state

NSW

  • NSW Government Disaster Relief Grants: For eligible people with low income and limited assets. Call the Disaster Welfare Assistance on 1800 018 444.
  • Primary producers: Grants of up to $15,000, concessional loans and transport subsidies for eligible primary producers. Call the NSW Rural Assistance Authority 1800 678 593.
  • Small businesses: Grants of up to $15,000 and concessional loans for eligible small businesses. Call the NSW Rural Assistance Authority 1800 678 593.
  • Legal assistance: Free assistance on issues such as insurance policies, employment, tenancy, credit and debt from Legal Aid. Call LawAccess NSW on 1300 888 529.
  • Volunteer Firefighters’ Financial Support: Payments for eligible volunteer firefighters who are self-employed or employed by a small or medium business and have lost income. Contact Service NSW online.
  • Motor vehicle stamp duty relief: Financial assistance for eligible motorists who have had their car written off as a result of the bushfires. Call the Office of State Revenue on 1300 139 814.
  • Replacement of documents: Free replacement of birth certificates, licences and permits. Call Contact Service NSW on 13 77 88.

Find more information about financial assistance, as well as emergency help, and mental health and wellbeing assistance in NSW at this regularly updated Facebook page:

Queensland

  • Accommodation, food & clothing: The emergency hardship assistance funding is available for eligible applicants who need temporary accommodation, food, essential clothing and medication. They may receive $180 per person, and up to $900 for a family of five or more. It is initially available to claim for seven days following the activation of the grant in your area.
  • Electricity, water supplies: The essential services hardship grant is available for eligible applicants who have lost one or more essential services such as electricity, water and sewerage systems. They may receive $150 per person, and up to $750 for a family of five or more. It is initially available to claim for seven days following the activation of the grant in your area.
  • Bedding and whitegoods: The essential household contents grant is available for eligible applicants who are uninsured or unable to claim insurance They may receive assistance to help pay for items such as a bed, linen or fridge, with grants of up to $1,765 for single adults and up to $5,300 for couples and families.
  • Repairs to home, caravan or boat: The structural assistance grant is available for eligible applicants who are uninsured or unable to claim insurance to make a one-off payment towards the repair of your home, caravan or boat to make it safe and secure. You may receive up to $10,995 for single adults and up to $14,685 for couples and families, depending on how much you earn.

To access this funding in Queensland, call the Community Recovery hotline on 1800 173 349 or visit the online portal.

Find more information about financial assistance, including for the safe re-connection of essential services – such as electricity rewiring – and help for primary producers on the Queensland government’s website.

South Australia

The State Emergency Relief Fund (SERF) Committee is funding people affected by bushfire emergencies such as at Cudlee Creek and Kangaroo Island, including via some of the following initiatives:

  • Grants for uninsured homeowners: Eligible residents who are uninsured and whose principal place of residence has been damaged by bushfires may get grants of up to $10,000 to help them re-establish their homes via rebuilding or replacing essential household items. Call the SA Recovery Hotline on 1800 302 787 for more information.
  • Financial assistance: The SA Bushfire Appeal may be able to provide financial support to people directly affected by the fires in Cudlee Creek or Kangaroo Island. You can apply to the State Emergency Relief Fund.
  • Emergency grants for food & medication: One-off emergency grants may be available to those directly impacted by the fires at Kangaroo Island or Cudlee Creek to help them pay for essential items such as food, toiletries, clothing and medication. Up to $700 is available per family, or $280 per individual adult. Call the SA Recovery Hotline on 1800 302 787 for more information.
  • Grants for primary producers: $15,000 to help with the immediate costs of rebuilding and recovering. It’s available for eligible primary producers affected by the Kangaroo Island or Cudlee Creek bushfires. Call PIRSA Recovery Hotline on 1800 931 314 or vis