The organisations helping Australian bushfire victims and volunteers

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.

 

Banks:

CommBank Emergency Assistance Package

•      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.  

NAB $5 Million Disaster Relief Fund

•      $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 Disaster Relief Packages

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 Bushfire Relief

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

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

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

 

Telecommunications:

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:

•      The NSW Rural Fire Service
•      The NSW Office of Emergency Management
•      The Bureau of Meteorology
•      Federal Government Disaster Assistance
•      ABC News
•      The Red Cross

Also, Telstra, Optus and Vodafone have all announced they will cover the costs of volunteer firefighters’ mobile services for December and January.

Telstra

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

Optus

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

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.

 

Energy: 

AGL

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

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.

Energy Locals

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:

Oaks Hotels

•      7 nights free accommodation per family unit nationwide

AirBnb

•      Open Homes programme offers free accommodation for NSW & VIC relief workers and evacuated Australians. 

Virgin

•      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.

 

Other:

Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade

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. 

The Business Council of Australia

•      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:

NSW Rural Fire Service

VIC Country Fire Authority

SA Country Fire Service

QLD Fire and Rescue 

Western Australia Bushfire

Major campaigns:

First Nations Communities Fire Relief Fund

Celeste Barber National Facebook Donation

Support for Firefighter Families

Wildlife:

Port Macquarie Koala Hospital

WIRES Wildlife Rescue

WWF

Wildlife Victoria

Other:

Red Cross Blood Donations 

Sewing neckties for firefighters

Volunteer:

Samaritan’s Purse

BlazeAid

  

- with contributions from Mark Bristow and Alex Ritchie

 

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Learn more about bank accounts

Do I need to open a business bank account?

Just because you’re in business doesn’t necessarily mean you need a business bank account. You could be a sole trader not registered for GST, and use your personal bank account for business.

If you do want a business account, there are plenty of benefits attached to business transaction and savings accounts, as well as business term deposits.

There are business bank accounts designed for businesses with a high volume of transactions, and those for start-ups with a small amount of trade. You could also include an EFTPOS service with your account.

Some business bank accounts charge for the number of transactions per month, while others offer a pay-as-you-go fee structure, where you only pay fees for transactions you make.

It’s up to you whether your priority is mainly transactions, or earning the maximum amount of interest on your principal. There’s a business banking solution for you if you need one.

Can a debt collector garnish my bank account?

A debt collector can garnish your bank account, but only with a court order. This drastic action is usually taken only if you’ve ignored several notices asking you to pay the debt.

If this happens, there is nothing you can do to stop it other than immediately pay back your what you owe in full or make arrangements to pay it off in installments.

Once a garnishee order is issued, your bank will put a freeze on your account as it processes the order. This usually takes two to three days and you won’t be able to access any of your money during this time.

If you have Centrelink payments, they may be protected, depending on what the court order says.

Are bank accounts frozen when someone dies?

Yes, Australian bank accounts are frozen when someone dies. If you want to close the account of somebody who has died, you might have to provide proof of death and a copy of the will. You might also have to prove your relationship to the deceased person.

If you have a joint bank account with somebody who has died, you will generally be entitled to all the money in the account. Again, you might have to provide proof of death if you want to change the bank account from a joint account to a one-person account.

Can I start a bank account online?

Yes, most lenders that operate in Australia will let you set up a bank account online. The process is usually simple and takes five to 10 minutes. You will probably need to provide a passport or birth certificate, as well as a driver’s licence, Medicare card or another form of secondary identification. Requirements differ from lender to lender, so some institutions might ask for more or different forms of ID.

Can you deposit money into somebody else's bank account?

One of the easiest banking tasks in the world is depositing money. You can even deposit money into someone else’s bank account if you wish.

The basic information you need to deposit money into a third-party bank account is:

  • Payee’s name
  • Bank, building society or credit union (though this isn’t necessary)
  • BSB (or bank code, which is the branch identifier)
  • Account number

Including the name of the financial institution isn’t necessary – particularly with online banking – because the BSB will identify this for you.

A handy tip is to record yourself (or add a personal message) in the transaction description or reference. This will show up on the recipients account, letting them know who’s paid them the money.

How do I close my bank account online?

You can usually easily open a bank account online, but you often can’t close it online.

Many banks and credit unions will only let you close an account if you go into a branch or call them on the phone.

However, some banks will let you request to close the account via your internet banking. Check your financial provider’s website for details.

Just remember: If you still have funds in the bank account, transfer them to another account, or withdraw the cash. Also, if you have any payments like direct debits going in or out of the bank account, these will also stop when you close your account.

What do I need to open bank accounts online?

Opening a bank account online is a simple process and only takes between five to 10 minutes to complete. To get started you will need a computer or smartphone with internet access.

Information to have available when you’re ready to apply is:

  • Identification (such as driver’s licence, birth certificate, passport, proof-of-age card)
  • Tax file number
  • Residential address, email and a contact number

In some cases, you might be asked to provide employment details. If you’re not able to verify your identity online, most financial institutions let you provide this in the branch at a later date.

There are some types of bank account that you can apply for only in a branch. However, most bank accounts can be applied for conveniently online.

How do I overdraw my Commonwealth Bank account?

Overdrawing a bank account can happen by accident. It’s often hard to know what your balance is, particularly with direct debits, scheduled repayments and pending transactions competing for cash.

To avoid being stuck with a bank fee every time your account is overdrawn, you can apply for a personal overdraft. This will enable you to overdraw your account up to an approved amount.

A personal overdraft is connected to your CommBank Everyday Account, so you can enjoy easy access to extra funds once approved – anywhere from $100 up to $20,000.

Your overdraft funds can be accessed via your CommBank keycard or Debit MasterCard, or online through NetBank and the CommBank app.

To apply you can either call the Commonwealth Bank directly or visit your local branch.

How do you deposit change into your bank account?

One way to deposit change into your bank account is to visit a branch. Many lenders will also allow you to deposit your change through one of their ATMs.

Can you open a bank account at 16?

Yes, you can open a bank account at 16, or even younger. If you’re 13 or under, you will probably need a parent to accompany you to a branch.

How do you find a bank account number by name?

For privacy reasons, Australian banks won’t hand out account numbers or other details about their customers. However, if you provide a bank with a BSB and account number, they should be able to confirm if those numbers belong to one of their customers.

How do you change your account name on NAB banking?

Changing the name on your NAB bank account is straightforward, as long as you have the right documents.

If you’ve just got married, divorced or legally changed your name, here’s what you need:

  • Married – a marriage certificate
  • Divorced –your ‘decree nisi’
  • Legal name change –your legal name change certificate

You can take either the original document, or a certified copy, into a NAB branch, where it needs to be sighted by a bank employee and a copy taken.

Your NAB bank account name will be updated immediately. New debit, ATM and credit cards with your updated name will also need to be issued. These usually take between five to 10 working days to be posted out to you. Your existing cards will keep working until you activate your new ones.

If you haven’t legally changed your name, but just want to change your account nicknames, you can log onto NAB and do it through the Settings/Mailbox menu.

Can I close a bank account with pending transactions?

You can close a bank account with pending transactions. But after the account is closed, any incoming transactions will be declined by your (old) bank.

The best way to ensure this doesn’t occur is to either wait to close your account until all pending transactions are complete, or contact the creditor and supply them with alternate bank details.

If you’re unsure whether you have any scheduled transactions, you can speak to a banking representative over the phone or via online support.

In most cases, your bank withholds the amount owing for pending transactions (such as online purchases).

Because the pending amount is deducted from your bank balance, you can close your bank account and the purchase will be honoured.

Which bank is best for business accounts?

Unfortunately, there’s no definitive answer to the question of which bank is best for business accounts. That’s because ‘best’ will differ from customer to customer, depending on their unique circumstances. These include not only your company’s financial position, but also its size, its age and the sector in which it operates. Another factor to consider is what features you want in a bank account. Your business may require different features than another business; and your business may require different features tomorrow than it does today.

The best thing to do is to thoroughly research the market before opening a business account. And when you do open an account, you should reassess your options every year or two, because the market moves quickly. A particular bank might offer the best account today, but be surpassed by one or several rivals tomorrow.