The financial ombudsman has launched a hotline for those impacted by bushfires and facing disputes with claims.
The Australian Financial Complaints Authority (AFCA) has launched a bushfire support hotline to assist those impacted by the bushfires who are facing disputes in relation to financial products and services.
AFCA chief operating officer Justin Untersteiner said that if those impacted by the bushfires find themselves in a dispute with their insurer or financial provider about a claim or request for assistance, AFCA can assist in identifying, expediting and resolving the dispute.
“We have special processes that identify and fast-track complaints from people, primary producers and small businesses in impacted communities, so we can assist you to resolve complaints as quickly as possible,” Mr Untersteiner said.
AFCA also warned that people must think twice before signing contracts with claims management companies.
“Our service is completely free to use and legally binding on financial firms,” Mr Untersteiner said.
“AFCA has heard reports of claims management companies charging people to manage disputes with financial firms. While not illegal, AFCA is concerned that people are being charged excessive costs and/or a percentage of the sum recovered, when in reality the service provided is of no real benefit to the person.
“AFCA warns against signing binding contracts with claims management companies unless people clearly understand the likely cost implications. In most cases, it is not necessary or of any real value.”
AFCA recommends those who have been affected by the bushfires to lodge a claim directly with their insurer or insurance broker. If they are unable to contact their insurer or insurance broker or are unhappy with their response, they can lodge a complaint with AFCA.
Additionally, if they are not happy with the outcome of their claim, delays with the claim, the proposed settlement or the service they have received, they can lodge a complaint with AFCA.
Small businesses who have been impacted by the bushfires should contact their financial providers as soon as possible, it recommended.
Those who need assistance are asked to call the AFCA Bushfire Support Line, which forms a part of AFCA’s disaster response process, on 1800 337 444.
Government offers support to SMEs
The federal government last week launched bushfire loans as well as grants for small to medium enterprises, with loans of up to $500,000 with zero interest for two years and grants of up to $50,000 being made available to small businesses that have been impacted by the ongoing bushfires.
Several lenders have also launched financial relief packages and donation packages to those affected, and mortgage brokerages, aggregators and industry bodies have also committed to support those affected by the ongoing bushfire crisis, with the launch of the Broker Bushfire Appeal via the Red Cross.
The appeal, which was then renamed the Mortgage and Finance Industry Bushfire Relief fund, subsequently received donations from several quarters, including $100,000 from Aussie, Loan Market and Mortgage Choice, and $85,000 from NAB-owned aggregators Choice, FAST and PLAN.
Australian Finance Group established a $100,000 bushfire relief package to directly assist customers and brokers affected by the fires. The aggregation group announced it was offering immediate short-term assistance to AFG brokers and AFG broker customers who have been impacted by the fires through one-off payments of $1,000.
The ongoing bushfire crisis across south-east Australia has so far claimed 32 lives, with 24 of those killed in NSW. Three American air crew members were killed last Thursday when their water bomber crashed while fighting a bushfire in NSW.
The bushfires have obliterated tens of millions of hectares of bushland and wildlife, destroyed thousands of homes and displaced thousands of people.
Malavika Santhebennur is the features editor on the mortgages titles at Momentum Media.
Before joining the team in 2019, Malavika held roles with Money Management and Benchmark Media. She has been writing about financial services for the past six years.
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