Bushfires – financial difficulty

This page is about how to deal with the financial difficulty that arises when people have experienced a bushfire.

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

If you are in financial difficulty, free support is available at the National Debt Helpline: 1800 007 007. You can speak to a financial counsellor to get advice. If necessary, they can refer you for a face to face appointment with a financial counsellor near you.

 

If you are a small business owner/sole trader whose business has been affected by the bushfires, call the Small Business Bushfire Financial Counselling Support Line on 1 800 413 828 to speak to a financial counsellor.

More information is also available at www.smallbusinessbushfire.org.au

01

Emergency Relief

Experiencing a disaster may mean you lose everything. There is help available:

  • Check with the fire service, police, local council or evacuation centre to seek help for food and other essentials
  • Seek emergency relief. You can find your closest service on the Department of Social Services website at dss.gov.au. Click on emergency relief or call us at the National Debt Helpline on 1800 007 007 and we can give you the details.

02

Centrelink Support

Services Australia is providing financial support for people directly affected by bushfires in disaster declared areas, currently NSW, Queensland, South Australia and Victoria. There are two main payments: the Disaster Recovery Allowance and the Australian Government Disaster Recovery Payment.

  • The recovery allowance is payable to people who can show they lost income as a direct result of the bushfires. It is a short-term payment (a maximum of 13 weeks) and the amount is equal to Newstart/Youth Allowance. The payment is also available to New Zealanders.
  • The recovery payment, which is also available for New Zealanders, is a one-off, non-means tested payment of $1000 for eligible adults and $400 for eligible children.

03

Insurance Claims

If you have an insurance claim and you are in urgent financial need you may be able to get an advance payment on your insurance benefit from your insurer.  See the Bushfire insurance claims page for more information. The Insurance Council of Australia has also activated a special phone hotline for disasters: 1800 734 621. It also has a website at www.disasters.org.au, which provides detailed information on the support available and the process for lodging claims.

04

Priorities

When you have lived through a natural disaster you may need to make choices about what you pay.

You will need to prioritise some payments and debts over others. For a step by step guide see Prioritise your debts.

Your priority debts are:

  • rent or mortgage payments (so you have somewhere to live)
  • council rates or body corporate fees
  • car payments for a car that is essential for work, children, getting essential goods or medical appointments
  • energy and water

05

Work out what you can afford to pay

It may be that you have some money left after you have paid your priority bills – see Step 4.

How to work out what you can afford to pay

 

If you can afford to pay something

Start paying the amount you can afford and get in touch with your creditor straight away to put a repayment agreement in place.

If you can’t afford to pay anything

Call us on 1800 007 007 straight away for advice

06

Contact your creditor

You can call, write to or email your creditors letting them know you cannot afford your usual repayments. If your creditor has a hardship department, it is helpful to speak to their staff. Tell the creditor that you want to make a repayment arrangement. This is called a hardship notice.

Tell the creditor you are in financial hardship due to the bushfires. Bushfires are a reasonable cause for hardship. Most creditors have compassionate policies to make flexible repayment arrangements for people affected by bushfires. Most creditors should recognise that you may not be able to make any repayments and agree to a period of time when no repayments are required.

TIPS

– Ask the creditor what help they have available for you. A number of companies have put in place extra support because of the devastation. For example, banks have options that could include deferred loan payments, waiving fees and charges, debt consolidation, waiving penalties for early release of a term deposit or changing limits on a line of credit (e.g. credit card). More information is available from the Australian Banking Association.

– Keep a written record of how and when you told the creditor you were in financial hardship. Ask the creditor to confirm any arrangement in writing so you can keep track of what has been agreed.

– Some creditors are more difficult to negotiate with than others. If you are having trouble call us for support and advice.

07

Make sure the repayment arrangement is realistic

Do not make repayment arrangements you cannot afford. If you have no money, say so. Concentrate on paying your highest priority debts.

08

If you make a repayment arrangement stick to it

If your creditor agrees to a repayment arrangement do your best to maintain the repayments.

  • Start making the repayments on the agreed date
  • If you are struggling to make the repayments contact your creditor again to talk about your options
  • If it is taking longer than you hoped to get back to making the scheduled repayments, talk to your creditor about extending the arrangement

09

What to do if you can’t agree

If you can’t agree on a realistic arrangement, you can lodge a dispute with an independent ombudsman:

Loans – Lodge a complaint with the Australian Financial Complaints Authority

Phone and internet: Lodge a complaint with the Telecommunications Industry Ombudsman

Energy and water – Lodge a complaint with the Ombudsman scheme in your state or territory. See Complaints & Disputes for a full list.

If you have a debt that has not been covered in this information, call us on 1800 007 007 to speak with one of our financial counsellors.

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