What to do if your business is affected by bushfires

bushfires small business

Businesses affected by bushfires can seek financial assistance through a range of government and corporate programs.

For those needing immediate assistance, the federal government has a list of available services, and you can contact the Department of Human Services (DHS) directly for more information.

You can also search for information specific to your area here.

November marked the first time fire warnings have been categorised as “catastrophic” across regions in New South Wales and southern Queensland. Similarly, in January, Victoria declared a state of emergency, and South Australian firefighters battled blazes originating from Yorketown and Kangaroo Island. The Australian Capital Territory (ACT) has also declared a state of alert, and has been struggling with some of the world’s lowest air quality over the past few weeks.

For many small businesses, especially those in rural areas, damage to property is unavoidable and devastating.

Thankfully, a range of programs — such as grants, loans, transport assistance and advice platforms — are available to affected SMEs.

If you’re not sure where to start, Business Queensland has a handy checklist, which is applicable in any state. South Australia’s government website also has a list of considerations businesses should take into account as they prepare. If your business relies heavily on tourists, Tourism Victoria and the Country Fire Authority (CFA) have made a fire ready kit to help you prepare.

Plus, SmartCompany has pulled together a list of resources to help you get started.

Is my business eligible for assistance?

In September, the federal government activated the Disaster Recovery Allowance to help anyone whose livelihood is affected by bushfires.

NSW’s Rural Assistance Authority has declared November’s bushfires a natural disaster, opening more of its services will be available to the public. You can check the declarations around your area here.

Minister for Natural Disaster and Emergency Management Minister, David Littleproud, also announced joint federal and state recovery grants of up to $15,000 for small businesses and farmers, saying in a statement, “getting back to business is one of the best ways to bounce back”.

You can check your business or farm’s eligibility, and apply for a grant here.

Queensland is also yet to define the November bushfires as a natural disaster, but you can keep an eye on this list for further updates. Keep in mind, it may follow some NSW departments in extending the period for the September 2019 bushfires.

However, Queenslanders can access a list of recovery assistance services here.

The Australian Taxation Office will also defer lodgements and payments for two months, and you can find the details here. SMEs in NSW, SA and Victoria have also been granted an additional two-month deferral on tax payments and activity statement lodgements.

I’m worried I don’t have enough money to get back on my feet

Anyone in financial distress should contact the Department of Human Services to enquire about an allowance, available for up to 13 weeks, of a similar amount to Newstart payments.

New Zealanders can also apply.

NSW’s Rural Assistance Authority also has grants and low-interest loans of up to $130,000, which open for some declared natural disasters. Visit the disaster recovery grants page for more information.

Business Queensland has also activated its disaster assistance program, allowing affected small businesses to apply for low-interest loans up to $250,000, as well as an essential working capital loan of up to $100,000 for business expenses such as wages and rent. The interest rates vary depending on the natural disaster, but they tend to be between 0.82% and 1.87%.

Victorian Premier Daniel Andrews announced a North and eastern Victorians affected by the bushfires can access financial counselling by calling 1300 834 775. Bushfire Recovery Victoria (BRV) has yet to list its programs and strategies for affected communities, but you can contact them for more information here.

SA’s state emergency relief fund (SERF) has been activated for Cudlee Creek. Contact the Department of Human Services to find out more.

Primary producers and small businesses on Kangaroo Island and in the Adelaide Hills may now also be eligible for a disaster recovery funding arrangement with grants up to $15,000 available. Click here for more information.

The big four banks are also waiving certain charges and fees for their existing customers.

Other services available at some banks include additional loans, increasing emergency credit limits, restructuring existing business loans, payment deferrals, and early access to term deposits.

You can find out if your business qualifies by contacting your bank. Here are the big four:

The Australian Securities and Investments Commission is also offering to review “various company-related fees” and waive late fees for affected small businesses in NSW and Queensland. They are also considering alternative payment options and will help SMEs obtain documentation from their office. Apply or find out if your business is eligible here.

What can I do if my property is damaged?

This depends on if your personal home doubles as your office, if you rent office space, or if you own a standalone property for your business.

If you rent, it’s worth reaching out to your landlord and keeping that line of communication open as you recover together.

If you own the property and are not sure if these grants apply to you, call the relevant department. In NSW, that would be the Public Information Enquiry Centre on 1800 222 228.

The Queensland government has a structural assistance grant for uninsured personal property owners.

Similarly in NSW, the Department of Human Services is offering a one-off disaster recovery payment.

Dealing with insurance companies can be finicky. Who can help me get it right the first time?

The Queensland government suggests taking precautions, such as taking photos of damaged property and goods for assessment purposes, keeping a detailed list of items, and contacting your insurer before you make any plans for repair.

If you need help, the Insurance Council of Australia has a weekday hotline (1800 734 621) that is open during business hours, or you can click here for further information.

NSW also provides Legal Aid services, including a helpline and, if needed, lawyers.

If you are unhappy with the service or outcome of your claim, make sure you have written records. If the insurance company can’t resolve it, contact the Australian Financial Complaints Authority.

Don’t have insurance? The Queensland government has a grant for your essential services, such as electricity, water and sewerage.

As mentioned above, the structural assistance grant is also available for eligible property owners who are uninsured.

Standalone uninsured properties may need to rely on the general financial loans and grants listed above.

The bushfires haven’t reached my property yet, but how can I prepare?

The Country Fire Authority’s website includes fire-preparation guides specifically for businesses and councils.

If you’re unsure about how at-risk your specific suburb is, check your local alerts on the Rural Fire Service’s NSW or Queensland site.

Evacuation centres are often open overnight. Find the nearest one in NSW here and in Queensland here.

In NSW, eligible farmers affected by declared natural disasters can apply for the natural disaster transport subsidy.

Primary producers in Queensland can also apply for a freight subsidy of up to $5,000 through the Department of Agriculture and Fisheries.

In Victoria, the VicEmergency App provides live fire updates.

The South Australian Country Fire Service encourages using multiple sources for emergency warning information, including their website, Twitter and Facebook accounts, hotline (1800 362 361) and partnered broadcasters. You can also download the app to stay updated.

There are a few bushfires in eastern Tasmania, but none that are out of control. Keep an eye on the list of current fires here and the current fire rating in your area here.

The Northern Territory does not have any major fires currently burning. Keep an eye on the map here. SecureNT’s social media feeds also provide live updates on fire bans and bushfire alerts.

You can find more information about air quality on the Environment Protection Authority Australia (EPA) AirWatch page, and how to dispose of bushfire waste here.

Those with animals and livestock should check their paddocks and enclosures are safe, or otherwise move their animals to safer areas.

How do I let people know I’m safe?

Sign up through the Red Cross register here or by phone:

  • NSW: 1800 227 228
  • QLD: 1800 442 182
  • SA: 1800 362 361
  • Victoria: 1800 226 226
  • WA: 1800 709 355

Telstra payphones are now free to use across the country until further notice.

Do you know any programs we missed in this article? Drop us a line. We will continue to frequently update this list of resources.

This article was last updated on Thursday, January 9, 2020.

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