Several lenders, including major banks, have announced that they will be providing emergency assistance packages for those affected by bushfires in south-east Queensland and northern NSW, including by suspending mortgage repayments.
Both Queensland and NSW have been experiencing numerous fires in recent weeks, with conditions from far north Queensland to the NSW border fuelling more than 100 fires a night in recent days.
According to some reports, Queensland is already facing its most catastrophic bushfire season “in recorded history”, with fire services adding that the early start to the fire season has been exacerbated by unseasonally warm temperatures and dry conditions.
With fire services warning that a number of fires could burn for a further six to eight weeks, several lenders have begun announcing that they will be providing emergency assistance packages for those affected.
NAB has announced that it will suspend home and personal loan repayments for affected customers, as well as provide credit card and personal loan relief, waive home loan and personal loan application fees, waive costs and charges for withdrawing term deposits early, and provide support to manage existing agribusiness bank facilities, among other measures.
It has said that it will also make its Employee Assistance Program available to customers.
NAB’s retail general manager regional for Queensland, Wayne Atkinson, commented: “We know this has impacted a lot of people – we are here to help, and the number one priority is to stay safe.
“We are here to support all NAB customers, employees and the wider community. Anyone who needs assistance or advice can contact us so we can discuss their circumstances and work out the best way to help.”
Similarly, Commonwealth Bank of Australia (CBA) is putting in place special arrangements for affected Commonwealth Bank and CommInsure customers should they need it, including by providing “assistance” for CBA home loan, credit card and personal loan customers, restructure loans for business customers with existing loans, and waiving charges and notice periods for affected customers wishing to access term deposits ahead of the maturity date.
CBA said it would also consider requests for additional loans, including emergency credit limit increases (subject to credit approval).
Commonwealth Bank is also making available emergency accommodation assistance for CommInsure customers whose homes have been damaged and said it would be expediting claims for CommInsure customers seeking help through their home, contents and motor vehicle insurance.
Major bank ANZ has also agreed to suspend repayments on loans, including credit cards, for up to three months (which may include interest capitalisation), provide temporary interest rate relief on lending for customers experiencing extreme financial distress in areas impacted by the fires, and waive fees associated with restructuring business loans considered necessary due to bushfire impacts.
Affected customers with ANZ Home and Contents insurance may also be eligible for measures such as emergency funds and temporary accommodation, the bank said.
ANZ’s general manager retail banking southern Queensland, Nathalie Hesse, said: “More than 100 fires are still burning across southern Queensland and northern New South Wales, with firefighters facing difficult conditions.
“We hope these relief measures help our customers with this challenging experience when they turn their minds to recovery and, in some unfortunate cases, rebuilding,” Ms Hesse said.
Westpac customers affected by the bushfires may also apply to defer mortgage and credit card repayments by up to three months, request loan restructuring without incurring fees, and have their interest rate adjustments waived should they wish to withdraw term deposits.
Those wishing to purchase replacement goods may apply for a personal loan at a discounted interest rate with no establishment fee, the bank said.
Affected Westpac customers with Home and Contents insurance may also be eligible to receive assistance under the terms of their insurance policies for emergency accommodation as part of the relief package.
Jo Moxey, state general manager for Northern New South Wales said: “Our thoughts are with our affected customers during such difficult times. We want to ensure our
customers know we are here to help and have dedicated assistance on hand.”
She encouraged anyone who needs assistance to contact the bank as soon as possible.
Suncorp Bank was also among the first of the non-major banks to announce relief assistance options to impacted customers, which include the opportunity to defer scheduled loan repayments (including interest-only) on a case-by-case basis, rearranging existing loans with the waiver of establishment fees, and waiving early withdrawal fees for customers wishing to withdraw from term deposits and/or Farm Management Deposits.
Suncorp said it would also offer credit card repayment relief where necessary and look to increase emergency credit card limits.
It added there would be no interest rate increases for affected customers either.
The bank is urging insurance customers impacted by the bushfires to lodge their claims as soon as it is safe to do so.
Banking CEO David Carter: “Our experience with natural disasters in Queensland tells us that over the weeks and months ahead, there will be a flow-on impact to small businesses and others in these communities, so we extend our message of support to our small business and retail customers across the region.
“Queensland’s rural communities are renowned for their resilience against some of the harshest conditions. So, we are honoured to support and stand with these communities as they rebuild – as we did earlier this year for customers and their communities in flood-impacted regions, including Cloncurry, Richmond and Julia Creek, and for those farmers continuing to manage sustained periods of drought,” Mr Carter said.
Those requiring assistance or relief are being asked to contact their nearest branch or banker, or call their lending institution via relevant relief hotlines.
[Related: Non-major banks cut interest rates]