Disaster insurance claims

A guide for making insurance claims following a disaster.

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Disasters are devastating and traumatic. Your personal safety is the highest priority.

This page is about how to make an insurance claim after you are safe. Making a claim will assist you to rebuild financially. The information below is a simple step-by-step guide on what to do.  If you need free legal advice about your insurance claim see Step 07 below.

How to make an insurance claim

01

Take pictures, write down details and find your insurance policy

If you can, try to:

  • Take photos of any damage of your house, contents, car or small business
  • Take photos around your property including water tanks, sheds, livestock, equipment, downed power poles and trees etc.
  • Write down details of any injuries and/or illness and any medical assistance you (or your family) received.
  • Write down details of any periods of unemployment, for example, the dates you were unable to work and why. This is because some people might be able to claim under insurance for loss of income.

TIPS

– Do not start destroying, repairing or moving things unless you have to (for example, because it is dangerous). The insurance assessor needs to see the damage as it is.

– If you can stop further damage happening you should do so. For example, covering the property. If you do this, take before and after photos and make a note of why you did it.

– If you need to move or use damaged property, take before and after photos and keep details of reasons.

02

Work out what insurance you have that you could claim on

Don’t worry if you have lost your insurance policies in the fire, flood, storm or other disaster.

  • If you remember the name of your insurer, just call them and give your details and they will give you details of your policy. You can also ask for a copy of the policy.
  • If you do not know the name of your insurer you can call the Insurance Council of Australia on 1800 734 621 and they will help find the information for you.

These are seven types of insurance policies that might be relevant after a disaster:

  1. Home and/or contents insurance – if your home is damaged
  2. Car insurance – if your car was damaged
  3. Small business – if your small business has been damaged.
  4. Income protection – if you are unable to work or are unemployed due to disability (a separate policy or covered by your superannuation)
  5. Consumer credit insurance – covering accident, sickness and/or unemployment for loans
  6. Life insurance – covering disability, serious injury and death (a separate policy or cover in your superannuation).
  7. Accident and Trauma – covers serious injury and accidents.

03

Make a claim

Contact your insurer and make a claim. The insurer must not discourage you from making a claim. (If that happens, go ahead and make a claim anyway as it is the only way to find out for sure about your coverage.)

If you are claiming on home building insurance, ask whether you are covered for temporary accommodation. Make sure you ask what costs are covered and how long it will be available. Check your insurance policy for further detail if needed.

If you are in urgent financial need of the benefits offered under your insurance policy, tell the insurer. The insurer may be able to help by:

  1. Fast-tracking the assessment and decision
  2. Making advance payments to alleviate your immediate hardship within five business days of you demonstrating that need

The insurer should process your claim and their next step is usually to send an assessor to check the damage and decide on the likely costs of the damage.

04

The claims process

If there is a disaster with large numbers of people affected, there might be delays in getting a claim settled.

If there is no widespread disaster, then the usual process is:

  1. You make a claim
  2. An assessor works out the extent of the damage and what is covered (if the insurer decides this is necessary)
  3. The insurer may ask for further information from you
  4. The insurer should keep you informed on the progress of the claim every month
  5. A decision to accept or deny the claim should be made as soon as possible and definitely within four months
  6. The claim is paid out or arrangements are made to rebuild, replace, repair property, etc.

In the event of a disaster or catastrophe, insurers may take extra time to make a decision. For example, insurers may take up to 12 months to decide on whether to deny or accept a claim. The process taken by insurers is not the law and you can pursue a complaint to get a decision – see below.

05

Delays and rejected claims – making a complaint

If you are unhappy with any decision or delay by the insurer you can make a complaint to the insurer. The complaint can be made to the person you are dealing with at the insurer or to the insurer’s specialist complaints department. You can make the complaint verbally or in writing. The insurer must respond within 30 days from the date you made the complaint.

You need to make it really clear to the insurer you have a complaint. For example, say:

I have a complaint about the delay in processing my claim. It has been months and I never hear anything from you. I want you to respond to the complaint.

You should have a response from the insurer within 30 days. If you don’t or are unsatisfied with the response, make a complaint to the Australian Financial Complaints Authority (AFCA). AFCA is a free and independent dispute resolution service. AFCA can make a decision that is binding on the insurer.

To find a contact at the insurer to escalate your complaint:

To make a complaint to AFCA:

You can lodge a complaint online or you can contact AFCA on their significant event hotline 1800 337 444 or on 1800 931 678

06

Settling your claim(s)

it is really important to get advice before accepting any settlement claim from an insurer. Places to get free advice are set out at the top of this page.

There are a number of possible things to check before accepting a settlement:

  1. Cash settlement or rebuild/replace/repair – avoid a cash settlement unless
    1. you are sure (and have your own independent quotes) that the amount will cover your costs;
    2. you have it in writing from your lender (if you have a mortgage) that they will not take the money to reduce your loan instead of allowing you to fix and replace the damaged goods or property;
    3. you are aware that specific repairs will not be guaranteed by the insurer;
    4. you are aware that any disputes with the repairer cannot be brought to the insurer.
  2. Take care with partial settlements. Make sure the cost of repairing everything is covered.
  3. Make sure you have claimed for everything you can. Before accepting a settlement look at your policy and damage again.

The General Insurance Code of Practice “How we respond to Catastrophes’ section requires your insurer to respond efficiently, professionally, practically and compassionately.  If you accepted a settlement of your insurance claim within one month of the catastrophe or disaster, this section of the Code also gives you the right to request the insurer to review that settlement if you later believe it was not complete or accurate. You have 12 months from the date of finalisation of your claim / settlement to request a review of your claim.

07

Get free legal advice

Free legal support is available if you have questions about claiming on your insurance policy or have a dispute with your insurance company further down the track.  You can contact the national Insurance Law Service (ILS):

  • Call the ILS on 1300 663 464 from Mondays to Fridays 9:30am to 4:30pm, Eastern Daylight Savings Time (Press 1 for natural disasters such as storm and flood)
  • Write to the ILS on their website inquiry form
  • Read the ILS insurance law factsheets on what to do in specific natural disaster events here.

08

Speak to one of our financial counsellors

While our free financial counsellors can’t give you legal advice, they can refer you to a legal service that can. They can also provide advice and support if you are struggling with your bills and debts.

Financial counsellors aren’t judgemental about your circumstances – they’re here to offer you free, confidential and independent advice and assistance.

To speak to a financial counsellor you can:

  • Call the National Debt Helpline on 1800 007 007– open Weekdays from 9:30 am to 4:30 pm.
  • Use our live chat service by clicking the chat icon in the bottom right corner of your screen. Live chat is available 9:30am-4:30pm weekdays. If you send a message outside these hours a financial counsellor will get back to you.
  • Make an appointment to see a financial counsellor in your local area – Find a local Financial Counsellor.

If you are a small business owner/sole trader whose business has been affected by a natural disaster, call the Small Business Debt Helpline on 1800 413 828 to speak to a specialist small business financial counsellor.   More information is also available at sbdh.org.au