Bushfires have devastated communities across Australia, but help is flooding in from business, government and individuals.
Big banks and small lenders have been quick to step up with a raft of measures to ease the pressure on affected customers, from waiving fees and deferring repayments to fast-tracking low-interest rebuilding loans.
The company that my business is affiliated with, AFG, is also supporting customers who have been hit hard by the crisis. AFG has allocated $100,000 in bushfire relief to provide one-off $1000 grants to those who have been injured or had property damaged or destroyed. As a customer of mine, if you have been affected please contact me to apply for this cash grant.
Lenders across the country have announced a range of options to relieve pressure on customers including:
- Emergency cash grants.
- Deferral of loan and credit card repayments for up to three years.
- Early access to term deposits.
- Low-interest rebuilding loans.
- Free counselling.
- Fee-free loan restructuring.
If you have lost income or property, it is important you get in touch with your lender or contact me to find out what your options are.
The Australian Banking Association (ABA) – which represents 22 banks including the big four – has urged customers to get in touch with the financial hardship team at their bank to ask about special assistance (contact details at www.ausbanking.org.au/doingittough).
All levels of government are coordinating to deliver bushfire disaster relief, with immediate aid to those who have been left homeless and re-establishment grants to uninsured homeowners and tenants.
The Government has established the National Bushfire Recovery Agency with an initial $2 billion funding allocation for 2020/21. Announcements so far include:
- The Disaster Recovery Payment, a one-off grant of $1000 per adult and $400 per child, for those who have lost income or been adversely impacted.
- The Disaster Recovery Allowance, providing weekly income support for up to 13 weeks.
- Grants of up to $75,000 to farming businesses in fire-affected regions, to be administered at a state level (yet to be finalised).
- $76 million in bushfire-related mental health support including up to 10 free counseling sessions through Medicare.
Most states have common disaster-related concessions including free re-issuing of identification documents (such as passports, driver’s licenses and birth certificates) or government permits.
Applications are open for the Rural Assistance Authority’s Disaster Recovery Grants of up to $15,000 in funding and concessional loans for eligible primary producers, small businesses and not-for-profits in affected local government areas.
Emergency Relief Assistance of up to $560 per adult and $280 per child (up to a maximum of $1,960 per household) is available, along with
Emergency Re-establishment Payments of up to $42,250 for those without building or contents insurance. Phone 1800 961 054.
Bushfire-affected residents can access Emergency Assistance Grants of $250 per adult and $125 per child (up to $1000 per family). Also, Recovery and Restoration Grants provide uninsured owners or tenants with up to $9,400. Phone Communities Tasmania on 1300 665 663 or visit TasALERT.
Rural Business Tasmania is funding crisis aid grants of $2500 to affected farmers.
The SA Department of Human Services has a run-down on assistance including: grants of $10,000 to help fire-affected small businesses get back on their feet; and up to $15,000 through Primary Industries and Regions South Australia (PIRSA) for primary producers.
At a local level, there are many organisations delivering support, from BlazeAid and WIRES wildlife rescue, to Foodbank and local rotaries. But a vast chunk of donations, including a $40 million contribution from the Federal Government, is being distributed via major charities.
With more than $60 million in donations, the charity has bumped emergency grants from $2000 to $5000 per household for people who have lost homes in bushfires since July 2019.
The Salvos have received $40 million in donations since November to fund cash grants, emergency catering and free financial counselling. Phone 1300 662 217.
St Vincent de Paul
The society is helping deliver food vouchers, clothes, financial aid to cover pressing bills and interest-free loans. Phone 13 18 12.
Financial and legal assistance
Once the physical danger has passed, the financial impact of bushfires can seem overwhelming. Plenty of free advice services have jumped onboard to offer guidance and support.
National Debt Helpline
Insurance Law Service
Free legal and home insurance advice with pointers on how to approach a claim. Phone 1300 663 464.
Rural Financial Counselling Service
The Federal Government had provided $15 million to fund additional free counsellors to advise rural businesses. Phone 1300 834 775.
Australian Tax Office
The ATO has automatically deferred lodgments and payments due for individuals and businesses in fire-affected postcodes, with a statement that reads: “Now is the time for you, your family and community. We’ll help you sort out your tax affairs later.”
Across the country more than 2600 homes have been destroyed, leaving thousands of people homeless. Alongside charities and government agencies, businesses and ordinary Aussies have opened their doors.
Find a bed
This pop-up organisation shows how one person can make a huge difference. On New Year’s Eve, a NSW student tweeted an offer to open paddocks at her home to animals that needed to be relocated. Within days she was inundated with offers and requests for help to rehouse animals and humans. Find a Bed is the result. There are now more than 3,500 homes registered on the volunteer-run site, which links those who need help with those offering help.
The chain of 53 hotels has offered seven nights’ free accommodation to those who have lost homes in bushfires from October 2019 to January 2020. The offer is valid until June 30, 2020 at any Oaks properties across the nation.
The company’s Open Homes program is coordinating free temporary accommodation in NSW and Victoria for relief workers and fire evacuees.
Staying in touch with loved ones and keeping abreast of fast-developing fire warnings has put communications front and centre throughout this crisis.
As of January 6, Telstra’s national payphone network and wifi hotspots were made free until further notice for all local, national and standard mobile calls to ensure people can reach help when they need it. The retailer has also waived December and January mobile phone charges for all customers who are volunteer fire fighters.
The company has increased data allowances for all customers in bushfire zones and granted free mobile access through December and January to volunteer fire fighters, SES workers or wildlife rescue volunteers. Those who have lost homes can access a free 4G Pocket Modem and three months’ free mobile broadband.
The carrier has deployed “SatCat” mobile satellite cells to bolster coverage in areas where fires have compromised local towers. Optus has also waived bills for December and January for volunteer fire fighters and SES workers.
Road to recovery
Rebuilding from the 2019/2020 bushfire season will be a long, slow process for affected communities and individuals. Extinguishing blazes is only the start of the journey, but those who have not been directly impacted can help.
To put it bluntly, cold hard cash rather than donations of goods are needed. You can help by giving to the charity of your choice, or take a different approach and spend money at small businesses in affected communities. Social media campaigns #emptyesky, #spendwiththem, #buyfromthebush and #stayinthebush have gained huge traction in encouraging people to jump online or into their cars to buy from rural shops.
Any advice contained in this article is of a general nature only and does not take into account the objectives, financial situation or needs of any particular person. Therefore, before making any decision, you should consider the appropriateness of the advice with regard to those matters. Information in this article is correct as of the date of publication and is subject to change.