Fire authorities are warning that hot, dry conditions have forced their hand to bring the official Fire Danger Season one week earlier from the traditional 1 November start.
While everyone hopes for the best, it is better to be prepared. Preparation goes beyond the pumps, hoses and evacuation plans – it’s also time to pay attention to financial matters to make sure you and your family can recover as quickly as possible if the worst does occur.
Prepare your financials now
“Getting ready now will get you back on your feet more quickly,” People’s Choice Credit Union spokesman Stuart Symons said. “You really don’t want to be caught with no papers, no ID, no way to get any money and no way to make things happen.
“You need to be prepared to take the most essential documents – passport, driver’s licence and birth certificate – with you if a bushfire strikes. Have copies in your emergency pack as well, and online as a backup in case you’re in too much of a rush,” he said. “Always take your wallet. It’s really easy to forget in a stressful situation.”
“It's also a good idea to keep up-to-date pictures of your home and contents and relevant receipts in the cloud or your email to help remind you what to include in any insurance claim. It can also demonstrate proof of ownership when you need to make a claim,” he said.
“Most financial providers will help you recover details such as account details and insurance policy information – you just need to know how to get in touch and they can assist with the rest,” he said.
You can help ensure you are not financially hamstrung by taking the following steps:
- Make sure you have your wallet, including debit and credit cards, and cash. You may need coins for public phone calls, so be prepared.
- Keep copies of your passport, Medicare card and driver’s licence in your emergency pack for identification.
- Take photos and videos of your home and contents, even in the drawers, both as a reminder to yourself and proof of ownership. This is particularly important for small items like jewellery. Use a secure cloud-based service or email to keep these records, together with receipts, handy for claims.
- Keep contact details of your financial institution and insurer with you and in your pack. Both will be able to help you through any recovery process.
- Keep a fully-charged power-bank to recharge your phone or camera. You may need these devices to keep up to date with the latest news, and can help document damage if needed.
The major insurers will generally enable emergency plans once a catastrophe like a bushfire occurs. Keep an eye on their website or social media accounts to find out more once it's safe to do so.
Understand your finances now
“It’s important to check your insurance regularly and keep it current so you can be confident you are covered appropriately. Once a bushfire starts it's often too late to increase your cover,” Mr Symons said.
“Every insurance policy has different levels of cover. Make sure you know the level you have so there are no surprises when it comes time to claim,” he said.
Read through your house, contents, vehicle and boat policies now to understand:
- Whether they are up-to-date and cover the appropriate risks for your area. Remember these risks extend beyond the bushfire itself so you may need to make sure you are covered for risks including theft, smoke damage and water damage.
- Make sure you are comfortable with the excess payable and the amount to be covered.
- Does your house and contents policy cover the costs of cleaning up and demolition or is this an additional item to be estimated?
- Do your policies cover the cost of temporary emergency accommodation and for how long?
- Do your policies allow for a cash payment to cover essential items?
- Insurers will require some items to be separately identified for coverage. Ideally you should have a description of each item, its brand and serial number. A document on a cloud-based server might help.
Most insurers and financial institutions have staff specifically trained to help answer your insurance questions during these times of need.
Things to do after a bushfire
“Safety is the first concern, so you must confirm authorities have cleared your area to re-enter,” Mr Symons said.
“You should have contact details of your financial institution or bank with you, and insurance representatives may be present at evacuation centres to help you through these important first steps,” he said.
“If it is safe to re-enter your home, think clearly about documenting damage as this will be a significant help for any claim you make. Also, be aware that additional help is likely to be available through your bank or credit union, your insurer and various levels of Government – call them to make sure you get the help you need,” he said.
The following may make your recovery faster and easier:
- Contact your bank or credit union to discuss your situation. There may be ways of lessening demands on your cash flow while you get back on your feet.
- Call your insurer before you start cleaning up to check what needs to happen first and the full range of services available to you through your policy.
- If repairs are needed, your insurer may have arrangements already in place. This will also ensure that you are covered for the cost of the repairs rather than undertaking unauthorised repairs.
- Make a list of your damage and destroyed items. Take multiple photos.
- Fire- and smoke-damaged goods that pose a health risk should be removed after talking with your insurer, but try to keep a sample and photos.
- Assess whether you need temporary accommodation. This might be covered by your insurer or through government services. This is often announced through local radio and other media outlets.
- If leaving theproperty, check with your insurer what should be done to secure it.
- If you are not covered by insurance, contact the local or state government. Government hardship grants can be issued to cover personal needs including food and clothing for those directly affected by a disaster.
- If you have repairs done, only sign a release if you are positive it reflects the work done or outstanding.