The death from this summer’s bushfires nationwide sits at 28, with many more injuries. Nearly 2000 homes have been destroyed and thousands of non-residential buildings have been damaged.
With tourists shunning fire-hit regions, more than 100,000 businesses are suffering, according to the small business ombudsman.
Nearly 14,000 insurance claims have been lodged since November 8, with insured losses estimated at $1.34 billion.
It’s a staggering amount of damage so, to help people affected, state and federal governments have released a range of relief packages, which are not to be confused with schemes for volunteer firefighters who lost income or wages while fighting fires.
The relief packages often overlap and can be tricky to navigate. So how do they work –who’s covered and who isn’t?
Do you have to live in a bushfire-hit area to apply?
Not necessarily. Under most schemes, the damage you claim must have occurred in a declared disaster area. Often that means you lived through the fire yourself, or your home was affected by flame.
But for some things, such as loss of income or damage to a business, it’s possible to claim even if you don’t live in the affected area.
There are government lists of eligible postcodes.
You have to apply by these dates
- Disaster Recovery Payment: June 30
- Disaster Recovery Allowance: June 30
- Rural Assistance Grants: seven months after the damage occurred
What if you’ve been injured or your relative has died?
People who have been “seriously” injured or whose “close relative” has died can access the Disaster Recovery Payment. This scheme, offered by the federal government, promises a one-off lump sum of $1000 to every eligible adult and $400 to eligible children.
Australian residents over 16 can apply for themselves or on behalf of any children under their care. You must show proof of injury or death, and applications should be made at a government services office, or by calling the Department of Human Services.
What if your house has been destroyed or damaged?
The Disaster Recovery Payment is also available to those who’ve lost their house whether it’s covered by insurance or not. You must show proof of loss and the payments are still capped at $1000.
Victorians can access emergency re-establishment assistance if their home is uninhabitable for more than seven days.
The payments of up to $42,250 can pay for clean-up, emergency accommodation, repairs, rebuilding and replacing some damaged contents.
Those who apply must meet income tests and show that their losses were not covered by insurance.
What if you’ve lost property other than your house?
When it was launched, the federal government’s Disaster Recovery Payment did not cover damage to assets other than the home. That changed in mid-January: now, the scheme is available if you were “adversely affected” by damage to a major asset, such as a fence, water pump or shed.
In Victoria, Personal Hardship Assistance Program payments provide immediate financial help for people who need things like emergency food, accommodation, clothing, medication and personal items.
Payments of up to $560 per adult and $280 per child are distributed via prepaid debit cards. The maximum payment is $1960 per eligible household.
The payment is not available to cover the cost of cleaning up fallen trees, business losses, replacing fences, car repairs or insurance excess.
What if you’ve lost income?
The federal Disaster Recovery Allowance exists for people who work in a bushfire-affected area and have lost income compared to their normal earnings. The scheme offers 13 weeks of income support and is administered by the Department of Human Services.
A bushfire must be the “direct” reason for the loss, and only those currently earning under a certain threshold are eligible. Single people with no children must be earning less than $1060 a fortnight, while a single parent must earn under $1615.
For each member of a couple, the cut-off is $970 per fortnight. Lower thresholds apply for under-22s.
Payment is capped at the same rate as Newstart, though it may be lower depending on the circumstances. For single people without children, the maximum payment is $559 per fortnight; single parents can claim a maximum of $780, while those in a couple will top out at $504.
Those already receiving income support, such as Newstart or Youth Allowance, are ineligible. Applicants must show what their income was before and after the fires.
There are separate schemes in the pipeline for people who lost income or wages as a result of fighting fires.
What kinds of documents would you need for these schemes
- Identity: Birth certificate, passport or a combination of other documents (e.g. drivers licence, Medicare card)
- Address: Drivers licence, Medicare card, Centrelink letters etc.
- Damage: hospital admission slip, police report, insurer’s assessment etc.
- Loss of income: for example, bank statements, employer’s letter, tax returns, Centrelink letters etc.
What if your business or charity has been affected?
Rural Assistance Grants of up to $15,000 to small business owners, primary producers or not-for-profit organisations, so long as the damage is not already covered by insurance.
The grants are designed to help with the cost of removing debris, disposing of dead livestock, replacing farm buildings or equipment and temporarily relocating a business.
The Rural Assistance Grants do not cover damage to a house or loss of income. To be eligible, you must intend to restart your farm, business or charity in the same area.
The Rural Assistance Authority administers these grants, and has set up an online portal for applications. You have to prove that your business or charity operated in a fire-hit area, that your insurance didn’t cover the damage being claimed and that you have lost, or will lose, money on fixing the damage.
What if you’re a farmer?
Fire-hit farmers will be offered grants of up to $75,000, though the federal government has yet to announce all the details. The grants are designed to help with “immediate needs”, and can be used for anything from fodder to repairing fences, sheds and farm equipment.
What if you’re from New Zealand?
New Zealand residents living in Australia are eligible for federal support if they paid tax at least once in the last three years. For people in this category, there are special versions of the Disaster Relief Payment and Disaster Relief Allowance, but under different names. The eligibility criteria are the same.
Janek Drevikovsky is an intern journalist at The Sydney Morning Herald.
Tom Cowie is a journalist at The Age covering general news.