Catastrophic bushfires: Insurers pledge their support to affected customers

Senior News Journalist · 11 November 2019
Catastrophic bushfires raging in northern New South Wales have destroyed more than 100 homes, and there are more than 50 fires burning across Queensland. Insurers have warned customers to listen to the emergency authorities and wait to lodge their claim when it’s safe to do so.

A state of emergency has been declared today for the next seven days across the entirety of NSW by Premier Gladys Berejiklian, as emergency services continue to battle “catastrophic” fire conditions across the state in hot, windy weather.

The Greater Sydney and Greater Hunter areas have been issued a “catastrophic” fire danger rating for Tuesday by the NSW Rural Fire Service, while a vast majority of the state has been issued a “severe” or “extreme” fire danger warning. People have been advised that leaving early is the safest option.

Bushfires in Queensland have also intensified near Yeppoon in central Queensland and at the Sunshine Coast. There are still warnings for people to prepare to leave near Yeppoon, as well as the Scenic Rim and in the Lockyer Valley, where fires have engulfed much of the region. Thick smoke has flowed over into the city of Brisbane today, with health authorities issuing a warning due to the poor air quality.

The bushfires blazing in northern NSW were declared a “catastrophe” by the Insurance Council of Australia (ICA) over the weekend, meaning claims by residents and businesses impacted by those bushfires would be prioritised by all insurers.

The ICA said insurers would be initiating their disaster response procedures and sending out claim specialists when emergency services declared it was safe to do so.

Key tips for people affected by bushfires

The ICA also offered the following key tips for customers and other Australians affected by the bushfires:

  • Return to your property only when you have been told it is safe.
  • Don’t worry if you cannot find your insurance documents. Insurers keep electronic records. Call 1800 734 621 if you can’t remember which insurer you’re with.
  • Take photographs and videos of your property to help the assessor with your claim.
  • Speak to your insurer before you attempt or authorise any building work, including emergency repairs, and ask for the insurer’s permission in writing. Unauthorised work may not be covered by your policy.
  • If your home has become unsafe, notify your local authorities and check with your insurance company whether you can claim temporary housing expenses.
  • You can remove and discard any damaged goods that pose a health risk, such as carpets or soft furnishings, but take photos and keep samples of materials and fabrics to show the assessor.
  • Keep any items that could be repaired, and if in doubt speak to your insurer.
  • Farmers and other primary producers are reminded that they may euthanise critically injured animals without having been visited by an assessor. They should ensure they have appropriate records for any insurance claim.

Suncorp, Commonwealth Bank & Allianz issue information to insured customers

This morning, national insurer Suncorp told customers of its brands Suncorp, AAMI, Apia, GIO and Shannons that it was “committed to their recovery” and suggested they lodge a claim as soon as it was safe to do so.

Suncorp Bank customers impacted by the fires across NSW and Queensland would have access to a financial relief package with flexible finance options, Suncorp announced on its website. The following options may be available:

  • An opportunity to defer scheduled loan repayments (including interest-only payments) 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.

Suncorp said any customers hoping to request one or more of these financial assistance measures should call 13 11 55.

Commonwealth Bank and CommInsure customers affected by the fires in NSW and Queensland would also have access to an emergency assistance package, which includes:

  • Emergency accommodation assistance for CommInsure customers whose homes have been damaged.
  • Expediting claims for CommInsure customers seeking help through their home, contents and motor vehicle insurance.
  • Assistance for Commonwealth Bank home loan, credit card and personal loan customers who are affected and may experience difficulties because of this.
  • Considering requests for additional loans including emergency credit limit increases (subject to credit approval).
  • Loan restructuring for business customers with existing loans.
  • Waiving fees for temporary and damaged merchant EFTPOS terminals, as well as merchant fees until trading recommences.
  • Waiving charges and notice periods for affected customers wishing to access term deposits ahead of the maturity date.
  • Waiving other selected fees and charges.

The bank said it encouraged customers to call its special assistance line on 1300 720 814 or visit a branch if they wanted further details.

Allianz told Canstar it would deliver guidance, claims help and other support as quickly as possible to help customers get back on their feet.

An Allianz spokesperson said that once it was safe for customers to assess the damage to their homes or property, they should create an inventory and take photographs of damaged items – such as structural elements or furniture – before disturbing the scene or disposing of items. They should then notify Allianz as soon as possible by calling their claims line on 13 10 13 or online.

For more information about how to lodge a claim or to enquire about having special consideration applied to your financial situation, customers can contact their bank, insurer or the ICA.

You might also find it helpful to read: Does your home and contents insurance include fire protection? or Bushfires to coronavirus: What is a P2 mask?

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Image source: Mari_May (Shutterstock)

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