Financial assistance available for Australians affected by devastating bushfires

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.

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 visit the website.
  • Grants for small business: $10,000 to help with the costs of clean-up, restoration and rebuilding. It’s available for eligible small businesses affected by the Kangaroo Island or Cudlee Creek bushfires. Call the SA Department for Innovation and Skills on 1300 142 820 for more information.

Find more information at the South Australian government’s website about fire and disaster recovery.

Victoria

  • Emergency relief assistance payments: Helps people directly impacted by the fires to cover the cost of emergency food, accommodation, clothing, medication and personal items. Payments are available up to $560 per adult and $280 per child, up to a maximum of $1,960 per eligible household. Visit a relief centre in your area to see if you’re eligible.
  • Emergency re-establishment payments for uninsured people: Assistance for those whose principal place of residence is uninhabitable for more than seven days because of an emergency, providing up to $42,250 per eligible household. The grant money can be used for clean-up, emergency accommodation, repairs, rebuilding and replacing damaged contents. Call the payment assistance helpline on 1800 961 054 for more information.
  • Financial counselling for farmers: Free and independent financial support available to farmers across all fire-affected areas – both primary producers and non-agriculture related small businesses. The professionals are regulated by federal legislation and employed by not-for-profit organisations. Call 1300 834 775 to access the service, or speak to the National Debt Helpline on 1800 007 007.
  • Replacement of documents & rego refunds: Birth certificates and licenses can be replaced for free, remaining registration on fire-damaged vehicles refunded and vehicle documents required for insurance purposes replaced. Call the Department of Justice and Community Safety on 03 5215 8500 or find more information at VicRoads.
  • Support for people with unpaid fines: People impacted by the bushfires who have unpaid fines can discuss their options – such as requesting an extension, review or paying in installments – by contacting Fines Victoria.

Find more information about financial assistance at the Victorian government’s Vic Emergency website.

Tasmania

The Tasmanian government has made information about financial assistance available for those affected by the Fingal bushfires. Three recovery and restoration grants may be available to impacted people, capped at a maximum of $9,400 each:

Eligible renters and homeowners may be able to receive one or both of:

  • Temporary Living Expenses: The grant is to pay for temporary living expenses that are beyond normal day-to-day expenses.
  • Replacement of Household Items: This grant assists in replacing essential household items that were damaged or destroyed by the bushfires.

Eligible homeowners may be able to receive:

  • Repair and Restoration: Assists with the re-establishment of a person’s principal place of residence to a basic, minimum standard to allow it to be inhabited. The grant isn’t designed to return the property to its original condition.

The Tasmanian government has more information about disaster assistance available on its Tas Alert website.

Want to redeem damaged banknotes?

The Reserve Bank of Australia (RBA) is accepting claims for banknotes that have been partially or completely damaged in the bushfires. According to the RBA, it will determine the value of the damaged banknotes and reimburse you the assessed amount.

How to claim damaged banknotes:

  1. Collect the banknote debris and put it into a plastic bag, labelled “bushfire”.
  2. Take the bag to your local bank who can help you make the claim.

For more information about how the claims process works and what forms to fill out, visit the RBA’s website.

Need somewhere to stay during the bushfire emergency?

Some homeowners may be able to get temporary accommodation organised by their home insurer due to the damage caused to their property by the bushfires. It could be worthwhile contacting your insurer to see if your home and contents are covered, and the Insurance Council of Australia also has a disaster hotline open – 1800 734 621 – for anyone who is uncertain of their insurance details or has inquiries about the claims process.

There have also been a number of heart-warming stories of everyday Australians lending a helping hand by offering up their own homes or properties as emergency accommodation for bushfire-affected communities.

Here are some other short-term accommodation options for people who have been left stranded:

Airbnb

Airbnb has launched its Open Homes Disaster Relief program in New South Wales (NSW) and Victoria, where people can list their homes at no cost to offer free accommodation to emergency service workers and people fleeing the bushfires.

Defence Force

The Australian Department of Defence has opened bases from Brisbane to Adelaide for people in need of short-term evacuation assistance and shelter, at:

Want to donate to help affected communities, animals & firefighters?

We’ve rounded up a range of different organisations where you can donate money or supplies if you wish to help bushfire-affected communities here.

It’s not just financial support being offered to people affected by the fires. Lifeline is offering information and support to those impacted by the disaster on its website or on 13 11 14.

This page has been updated with new information about financial assistance for Australians impacted by the bushfires on 14 January 2020.

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