Bushfire survivors left struggling after accepting inadequate insurance cash settlements

16th March 2020

Victorian bushfire survivors are being urged to seek free advice and assistance from a bushfire recovery financial counsellor before they accept a claim or cash settlement offered by their insurance provider.

Financial counsellors can help those who have been impacted by the recent bushfires with insurance claims, grant application forms or with other credit and debt issues.

Tracey Grinter, financial counsellor and Community Services Manager at Anglicare Victoria, recently spent time in the north-east of the state with fire-affected communities. She said many people are accepting inadequate cash settlements and do not know that help is available.

“Reports from insurance providers suggest that a large percentage of bushfire claims made this year have been cash settled. The problem is that a cash settlement is often not enough for victims to rebuild and payments are made to the bank, who holds the property mortgage, not the survivor,” Ms Grinter said.

Bushfire recovery financial counselling is free and confidential, with no conflict of interest that would get in the way of providing the best possible advice to people who have been affected. Anglicare Victoria financial counsellors can provide assistance, information, options and support to those who are beginning the process of rebuilding their homes and livelihoods.

“If bushfire survivors have already accepted a cash settlement, they have 12 months to appeal the settlement – and a financial counsellor can help you do this. There is next to no awareness of financial counselling in these devastated communities, or of the support that is readily available to help get people through such a difficult time,” said Ms Grinter.

Scott Pape, the Barefoot Investor and bushfire survivor himself, said many people that find themselves in this situation are justifiably overwhelmed with the avalanche of paperwork that awaits them.

“These people need to know there is an independent advocate that will work beside them and with their best interest in mind. That’s what financial counsellors do. Some people say it’s the world’s best kept secret. It’s often the people that need the service the most are the least likely to put their hand up for help. That needs to change. I want to get the word out.”

Leigh and Sarah McColl, beef cattle farmers from Tooma, lost 95 per cent of their property when bushfires ravaged much of North East Victoria and Southern New South Wales in early January.

“We had an insurance assessor come to view the damage to our property five days after the fires came through, and we didn’t hear anything thereafter for five or six weeks. I’d had many sleepless nights, the fires had destroyed the majority of our hay, so we were essentially thrown into drought overnight. I was feeding 40 bales of hay each day just to keep our stock alive until we had secured a location for them to be settled temporarily. I also had to re-fence to keep stock in and was unsure how much of our permanent pasture had been destroyed. On top of that I was worrying about all the paperwork for our insurance claim.

“It was a huge relief when Scott and the financial counselling team stepped in and got the wheels turning. I had complete trust and faith in the financial counsellors, they provided a second set of eyes to check the fine print and helped us apply for the grants we were entitled to.

“Scott worked with our insurance provider to negotiate a fairer outcome for us. It was great to have someone who was fighting on our side for a better result,” said Leigh.

Bushfire recovery financial counselling is available from Anglicare Victoria in the bushfire affected north-east and Gippsland regions of Victoria.

You can arrange to see a financial counsellor by contacting 1800 809 722 or dropping into your local Recovery Centre.

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