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Where to get financial assistance if you're affected by bushfires

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Financial help for people suffering hardship from the nation's devastating bushfires is emerging from federal and state governments as well as charities and some companies.

Here is what is being offered to residents, fire fighters, emergency workers, primary producers and businesses.

Disaster Recovery Payment

bushfire financial relief

Disaster Recovery Payment (DRP) is a one off payment from the Federal Government of $1000 for eligible adults and $400 for children.

It is for people who have been directly affected by the fires and includes people who have lost their house and isn't means tested.

You can call Department of Human Services on 180 22 66 or go to humanservices.gov.au.

Disaster Recovery Allowance

The state governments of NSW, QLD, South Australia, Victoria and Tasmania are offering people affected by the bushfires an allowance equivalent to Newstart or the Youth Allowance for up to 13 weeks.

You must meet the strict criteria such as an income hurdle to receive the payments. Also you cannot receive it if you are already getting certain government payments.

New Zealanders

There are two ex-gratia payments, a disaster recovery payment and an allowance, for New Zealanders who can show they have lost income and been directly affected by bushfires.

Free mental health support

Ten free mental health treatment services from a GP, psychologist, occupational therapist or a social worker are available through Medicare benefits.

To qualify, the bushfires must have impacted you or your family, be a first responder after fires have been through the area, or emergency worker or volunteer. The sessions are available from January 2020 to the end of 2021.

Fire fighters

Rural Fire Service Volunteers in NSW, South Australia and Queensland can receive up to $6000. Victoria is expected to announce it will follow the other states in coming days.

To qualify you must be self-employed or work for small and medium businesses, and who have been called out for more than 10 days this fire season.

Payments will provide for lost wages and income of up to $300 per day. The upper limit is $6000 per person, which represents around 20 days of fire fighting. The payments aren't means-tested and are tax-free.

The state governments administer the payments.

Red Cross Emergency Grant

If you lost your home or it is uninhabitable because of the bushfires the Red Cross is offering an emergency grant of $5000. Visit redcross.org.au.

If you have lost your documentation in the fires, phone 1800 733 276.

Farmers, fishers, foresters and beekeepers

Primary producers living in fire-affected regions can apply for up to $75,000. Each state government administers the grants. Call 1800 900 090.

Financial counselling

Sixty rural financial counsellors are available to help farmers to apply for support payments and fill out insurance applications.

These specialists can also help with negotiating with lenders, applying for the farm household allowance, identify other assistance schemes and financial options. This is in addition to the Rural Financial Counselling Service (RFCS) that can be contacted on 1800 686 175.

Australian public servants

More than 150,000 staff working for the Australian Public Service around the country who are fighting bushfires will be able to access an additional 20 working days' leave, which can be extended if individuals apply for more.

Australian banks

Australian banks are beginning to hand out any direct payments to customers who have lost their homes. Firstmac, Westpac and NAB are offering $2000 to customers who have lost their homes.  Most banks are also offering assistance that includes:

  • Deferring loan repayments 
  • Waiving fees and charges, including break costs on early access of farm management deposits 
  • Putting off interest payments on a case-by-case basis 
  • Offering additional finance to help cover cash flow shortages 
  • Deferring upcoming credit card payments 
  • Increasing emergency credit card limits.  

Small businesses affected by these bushfires are also encouraged to contact their bank to access various forms of assistance to help them through the recovery.

For more information, or to find the number for your bank's hardship team go to ausbanking.org.au.

Financial Planning Association

Financial planners are donating their time to help people impacted by the bushfires rebuild financially according to the Financial Planning Association.  Visit fpa.com.au.

Telstra

Telstra customers who have suffered damage or lost their premises will receive a one-off $500 credit to their Telstra fixed phone account to help cover the connection of a Telstra fixed phone service at a temporary residence. It will also re-connect a Telstra fixed phone service at the customer's original permanent premises.

Also Telstra will provide free call diversion from the customer's Telstra fixed phone service to another Australian fixed or mobile service of their choice, regardless of the carrier, for a maximum of six months from the date of the fire.

Telstra's payphones and Telstra Air hotspots (where available) will be free for anyone to use so that they can stay in touch with family members around the country.

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Susan has been a finance journalist for more than 30 years, beginning at the Australian Financial Review before moving to the Sydney Morning Herald. She edited a superannuation magazine, Superfunds, for the Association of Superannuation Funds of Australia, and writes regularly on superannuation and managed funds. She's also author of the best-selling book Women and Money.
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