What to do after a natural disaster

How to manage after a bushfire, storm or flood

It can be hard to know what to do when you go through a natural disaster. Follow these steps when you begin to recover.

Contact your insurer, broker or adviser

Deal directly with your insurer or an authorised, trusted insurance broker or financial adviser. They'll check your policy covers you for the event that has happened.

Your insurer, insurance broker or financial adviser will have your policy information, so don't worry if you've lost your insurance documents. Ask them to explain the claim process and what you need to do.

If you need emergency accommodation, ask if your insurer can help you.

Legal Aid NSW has information on what to do after a natural disaster, including how to deal with your insurer.

Important: Current Australian bushfires

We understand insurers are working quickly to process claims. Your insurer may be able to provide emergency accommodation and financial support as part of your claim.

Assess the damage to your property

When you make an insurance claim, your insurer will arrange for someone to come and assess the damage to your property. An assessor will gather information to see whether you are covered under your policy. 

During a natural disaster, an insurer may take time to send someone to review your claim. While you are waiting, take photos and make a list of all the damage, including as much detail as possible. Keep receipts if you need to buy essential items like food or bedding.

Property clean up and repairs

Don't start cleaning up until it's safe to do so. Check for any dangers, for example, asbestos or unsafe electrical wiring and equipment, and always avoid floodwaters. Keep track of what is happening in your area, in case there is a coordinated clean up underway.

Check with your insurer before making any repairs to your property. Your insurer may need to authorise repairs and tradespeople before they happen.

Important: Watch out for scammers

Watch out for fake tradespeople or repairers after a natural disaster. Always check their licence and ABN. The Insurance Council of Australia provides information on how to spot and protect yourself from scammers who take advantage of disasters.

Finalise your insurance claim

Your insurer may offer to:

  • handle repair or replacement of your home, or
  • offer cash to settle your claim

Cash settlements mean you have to manage the repair or rebuild process yourself, and you might be left out of pocket. The National Debt Helpline explains what to check before settling your bushfire insurance claim

If you settle your claim within a month of the event, you have up to a year to get it reassessed. You may do this if you think the assessment was not complete or accurate. See the Insurance Code of Practice for more information.  

Get help if you need it

Asking for help can make the recovery process a lot easier. There's special support available to help you deal with the natural disaster.

Financial help after a natural disaster

If you're having financial difficulty, these services can help you:

  • Your insurer - they may fast-track your claim or give you an advance payment within five business days. They will deduct this payment from your total claim.
  • Government payments and support services - see help in an emergency on the Department of Human Services website.
  • Your credit provider - if you're finding it hard to make loan or credit card repayments, ask your credit provider for a hardship variation
  • Financial counselling - if you're struggling with money, a free financial counsellor can help you get back on track.
  • Crisis support - there are services to help you with food, housing and bills in a crisis, as well as emotional support. See urgent money help.

Legal help after a natural disaster

If you have problems with your insurer or repairer, or need to negotiate with credit providers, free legal services throughout Australia can help.

The Insurance Law Service provides free legal advice and support.

Some states have legal hotlines to call for help during a disaster:

  • NSW - Disaster Response Hotline 1800 801 529
  • Victoria - Disaster Legal Help 1800 113 432
  • Queensland - Bushfire Legal Help 1300 004 924

Support to help you cope with recovery

A natural disaster can impact your emotional health. If you're not coping and need help, please speak to:

The Australian Red Cross has resources to help you recover from a natural disaster. These include coping strategies for adults and children.

Recovering from a natural disaster can feel overwhelming. Taking it one step at a time, getting help and seeking advice can make the path to recovery easier.

Related links

Last updated: 16 Jan 2020