Australia is suffering from one of the worst bushfire seasons firefighters have seen in the country.
Across Australia, six million hectares have been burnt in the ongoing blazes, which is roughly two times the size of Belgium.
While the footage, photos and stories seen in the media leave imprints on minds around the country, the bushfire is a reality for those living and working in affected areas.
If you or someone you know have been affected by the ongoing fires, here are some of the resources that are available to victims and volunteers now.
• Emergency accommodation assistance, payments waived for month following emergency event and waived fees and charges, early access to term deposits, expediting claims to CommInsure and hardship assistance for loan and credit card repayments.
• $1 million to Red Cross and local organisations in impacted communities.
• Customers who lost homes have access to immediate $2,000 grant. • Evacuated NAB employees can access $1,000 grant.
• Up to 3-year deferral of interest and repayments on NAB loans.
• Financial relief for customers, dedicated hardship bankers, counselling support available.
Westpac Group has established a $1.5 million Bushfire Fund to help support rural fire services, Westpac customers, and organisations assisting with the recovery process. Westpac customers include those with St George, BankSA and Bank of Melbourne.
Additionally, Westpac customers affected by bushfires may be able to access to following:
• Deferred home loan payments for up to 3 months.
• Business loan restructuring without establishment fees.
• Deferred credit card repayments for up to 90 days.
• Waived term deposit interest rate adjustments for early withdrawal of funds.
• Discounted interest rate and no establishment fee on personal loans to purchase replacement goods.
• Halt to all interest accrual on unsecured credit products for up to three months.
ANZ has pledged $1 million towards bushfire relief. This includes donations to volunteer fire services, community services, and ANZ home loan customers who have lost their homes and are suffering ongoing financial hardship.
This complements the bushfire relief package that ANZ made available in December 2019, which includes:
• Suspended repayments on loans, including credit cards, for up to three months.
• Temporary interest rate relief for credit card and personal loan customers in extreme financial distress.
• Waived fees for restructuring business loans.
• Early access to term deposits without incurring fees.
Suncorp Group customers impacted by bushfires can apply for several flexible finance options including:
• Deferred scheduled loan repayments (granted on a case-by-case basis).
• Rearranged repayments for existing loans with fees waived.
• Waived early withdrawal fees for customers wishing to withdraw from term deposits and/or Farm Management Deposits.
• Relief from credit card payments.
• Increased emergency credit card limits.
• No interest rate increases.
• Working capital assistance.
ING offers the following to customers affected by bushfires or other natural disasters:
• No ING discharge, loan variation or restructuring fees for affected mortgage customers.
• Repayment breaks for mortgage customers whose residence or employment has been affected.
• No early termination penalty for affected term deposit customers.
• No break costs for fixed rate loans.
• Emergency cash and goodwill payments for dishonour fees for failed direct debits.
Homestar Finance Financial Care Package
For customers who are volunteer fire fighters and customers that have property damaged or have lost employment due to the bushfires, they may be eligible for:
• No loan repayments for up to 12 months
• Interest charges waived for a three-month period
Australia’s telecommunications companies are also offering services to help those Australians fighting and affected by bushfires.
Telstra, Optus and Vodafone have all committed to provide unlimited access to emergency service websites for customers in bushfire-affected areas, to help prevent affected Australians from going over mobile data limits.
Some of these critical sites include:
Also, Telstra, Optus and Vodafone have all announced they will cover the costs of volunteer firefighters’ mobile services for December and January.
Around Australia (not just in affected areas)
• Free local, national and standard mobile calls on the Telstra payphone network until further notice.
• Free use of the Telstra Air Wi-Fi network in locations where payphones are equipped to provide this until further notice.
Short-term assistance for bushfire-affected Telstra customers who have experienced temporary faults or evacuation includes:
• Free call diversion from an affected fixed home or business phone
• A one-off credit of $100 inc. GST for affected Telstra mobile customers who do not have a Telstra home phone
The above offers are applicable until network damage in the area due to fire is repaired, or while customers remain evacuated, for a maximum period of three months from the date of the fires.
Long-term assistance for Telstra customers who have suffered severe damage to or loss of their premises includes:
• Free call diversion for a maximum period of 6 months from the date of the fire
• A one-off credit of $500 inc. GST to help cover the cost of connection of a Telstra fixed phone service at a temporary residence, or reconnection of a Telstra fixed phone service at the customer’s original permanent premises
As well as waiving the mobile phone bills of volunteer firefighters, Optus is also working with local evacuation centres in the affected areas to provide support including pre-paid phones, pre-paid data packs and charging stations.
Optus has in place a financial assistance policy to support customers affected by the bushfires. Optus may offer:
• free call diversions from an Optus fixed home phone to any mobile or fixed number
• extended timeframes for bill payments
• bill waivers in instances of extreme financial hardship; and
• free suspension, relocation or cancellation of a fixed service
• free prepaid credit which can be organised at local stores.
Vodafone is waiving mobile phone bills for volunteer firefighters in December and January.
Vodafone also has options available under its hardship policy for any customers who have been directly impacted by the fires. Those customers can apply for financial assistance by contacting Vodafone’s Financial Hardship team on 1300 650 405.
Volunteer firefighters who are AGL customers can get a discount on their next electricity or gas bill by up to $150. To access the bill credit, firefighters can provide their volunteer ID numbers to AGL customer service staff. Customers affected by the bushfires can also ask for their bills to be put on hold.
Energy Australia has automatically paused the energy bills of their residential and small business customers affected in the area. The company is also prioritising aid to customers who have lost their homes or have been evacuated.
The Victoria-based company is writing off energy bills in some circumstances for those who have lost their homes, while offering half-price membership for their new homes during the period they stay with Energy Locals. Volunteer firefighters’ membership fees will also be given a 50 per cent discount for as long as they stay with the company. Others who have been affected by the bushfires may also be eligible for other hardship assistance.
Accommodation & Travel:
• 7 nights free accommodation per family unit nationwide
• Open Homes programme offers free accommodation for NSW & VIC relief workers and evacuated Australians.
• Fees waived for changes to existing bookings. 4-week paid leave for employees supporting bushfire response.
• Transport of community service personnel and equipment. Includes cargo space and excess baggage allowances.
• Matching all employee donations to the Salvation Army Emergency Services up to $250,000.
DFAT may provide free passport replacements for Australians whose passports have been lost or damaged in the bushfires.
If you need to apply for a free replacement, you don’t need to fill in any application forms, but you will need to confirm your identity and that you were in an affected area.
For more information, call the Australian Passport Information Service (APIS) on 131 232.
• Setting up $25m fund for children of volunteer firefights
• Calling in its members to offer 20 days paid leave to staff volunteering
How you can donate
Local state fire services:
- with contributions from Mark Bristow and Alex Ritchie