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Natural Disaster Relief Guide: How to Recover from a Storm, Fire or Flood

Plan your recovery and rebuild following fire, storm, or flood. Just know you don’t have to do it alone.

February 2021 – 6 minute read

Key takeaways from this article:

  • Identifying emergency and crisis supports
  • Help making a financial recovery plan
  • Checking my insurance
  • How to start settling my insurance claim
  • The importance of talking about feelings
     

Recovering from the impact of a natural disaster, such as bushfire, flood or severe weather event, can take time. There’s the shock and stress of dealing with an emergency, and, of course, the possible personal and property loss to navigate. Here we’ve listed steps, and possible strategies, aimed at supporting your recovery.

Step 1: Develop an emergency and crisis support network

Call us on 1800 067 497 or visit our Disaster Relief hub to understand what financial and customer support there is available. Check out your eligibility and apply.
 

If you’re insured, check with your insurer about accommodation options.
 

This listing of Resources to help you out in tough times is a place to start for government related emergency and disaster assistance options. You can also contact Centrelink to see if you’re eligible for crisis payments.
 

Don’t forget charities and community organisations, such as the Red Cross, also offer support.
 

Try your local council, community centres, rural fire and state emergency services in your state or territory for immediate local information and support, including evacuation centre procedures. These procedures may have changed because of COVID-19.
 

If you know of someone who has been through a similar experience have a chat with them about what to expect. Neighbours, friends, and family can help.

Step 2: Contact your financial institutions

Let your bank or other financial institution know if you’ve been impacted by a natural disaster. You can go online, call, or if possible visit a branch.
 

We have a range of ways we help customers, including through our hardship team. If you're finding it difficult to meet your home loan, credit card or personal loan repayments, talk to us about the options or go online to visit our Disaster Relief hub for information. You can apply to see if you’re eligible for our financial assistance and support packages here.
 

Visit us in branch or speak to someone from our team at Westpac Assist, call: 1800 067 497.
 

You may want to contact your utility providers - gas, water, electricity - and find out about their available support options too.

Step 3: Get help making a financial disaster recovery plan  

Free financial counselling can help people to find solutions to their money problems. We have a dedicated financial hardship/financial assistance line that offers a range of options to address common financial problems. Contact us on 1800 067 497.
 

When times are tough financially, budgeting becomes even more important. It puts your income and expenses down in clear, black and white terms, reducing some of the confusion that can come with just “winging it”. Getting back control of your money can relieve some of the inherent anxiety and stress of an unpredictable situation and help you in recovery.
 

Bring things back to basics and focus on essential expenses, specifically housing, food, and health care. Start by creating a personalised budget for you and your family.
 

Paying your bills and debts is important, but it’s more important that you and your family have a roof over your heads and are in good physical and mental health. Budget for these costs first and you’ll find it’s easier to see where to focus regarding other areas of your finances.
 

Here’s a budget planner template you can use to help get you started:

 

Here’s a budget planner template you can use to help get you started:

Budget planner (PDF 82KB)

Working out your priorities and finding ways to either increase income or decrease costs are all critical to recovery. Check out the Davidson Institute’s handy Cost-cutting checklist for strategies.

Cost-cutting checklist (PDF 216KB)

Step 4: Check your insurance 

Check what your policy covers and have the details ready when you contact your insurer. Deal directly with your insurer and let them help you make a claim.
 

It’s good to remember that claims do take time. There are all sorts of reasons for this, including the amount of claims being processed and the severity of the issue, for example. Repairs for those most in need are prioritised and insurers may offer cash settlements. Check the financial implications of taking this option and ask questions about what you can do. Many claims involve a visit from the insurance assessor. Working with an assessor can speed the process up.
 

Remember: If you need emergency accommodation, ask your insurer if they can help.
 

If you have lost your insurance details, call the Insurance Hotline on 1800 734 621.

How to Claim Insurance?

1. Assess the damage 

Assess the damage but only when, and if, it’s safe to do so. Check for any dangers, for example, asbestos or unsafe electrical wiring and equipment, weakened structures, fallen beams, trees, etc. Stay clear of floodwaters and, in the case of coastal erosion affecting property, be aware of tidal surges.

2. Prevent further damage

Take safe and reasonable steps to prevent further damage to your property and belongings. Cover damaged roofs, windows, doors to prevent further damage.

3. Provide evidence

Take photos or a video of your property. List the damage and include as much detail as possible. If you have photos of the property before the damage use them as a reference for the claim.

4. Avoid making repairs

Check with your insurer before making repairs. Your insurer may need to authorise repairs and tradespeople first before this can happen.

5. Use reputable tradespeople

Watch out for fake tradespeople or repairers. Check with your insurer for reputable tradespeople.

6. Check information about government clean-up programs

7. Talk with your insurer or your financial institution about your concerns if you’re not satisfied with the process

Talk with your insurer or your financial institution about your concerns if you’re not satisfied with the process. For free legal advice and support, contact: Insurance Law Service 1300 663 464; NSW — Disaster Response Hotline 1800 801 529; Victoria — Disaster Legal Help 1800 113 432; Queensland — Bushfire Legal Help 1300 004 924.

Step 5: Talk to someone about how you’re feeling

The time following a natural disaster is overwhelming and the recovery process is often long, which may significantly increase the emotional impact you and members of your family experience. Making decisions, and this includes important financial ones, can be difficult and stressful which is why you need to look after your mental health and wellbeing and get help when you need it.
 

Why not listen to our Financial wellbeing and fitness podcast for a few pointers. There are also various money management tools available to support your financial recovery on our Budgeting to help recover from a financial setback page. 
 

Remember, you don’t have to go it alone. Many workplaces offer free counselling services. Speak to your doctor. They can help you identify the support you need and guide you around what’s available through Medicare.
 

Most importantly, have a good emotional support network (friends, family, community) and some sort of recreational release (e.g. sport or a hobby, music, meditation, etc) to help you take a break and look after your mental health and wellbeing.

Health Support Services

Lifeline Australia — phone 13 11 14 for a free 24-hour crisis support service. Or try Lifeline’s crisis support chat service

Beyond Blue — phone 1300 22 46 36 to speak to a mental health professional 24 hours a day.

Black Dog Institute free mental health fact sheets covering depression, anxiety and stress, wellbeing, and other issues.


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Financial wellbeing and fitness podcast

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Help to understand debt consolidation

Reduce financial stress, make your repayments more manageable and potentially reduce the costs.

Things you should know

This information is general in nature and has been prepared without taking your objectives, needs and overall financial situation into account. For this reason, you should consider the appropriateness for the information to your own circumstances and, if necessary, seek appropriate professional advice.
 

© Westpac Banking Corporation ABN 33 007 457 141 AFSL and Australian credit licence 233714.