Businesses preparing for some of the worst-ever bushfire conditions can seek financial assistance across a range of government and corporate programs.
Today marks the first time fire warnings have been categorised as “catastrophic” across regions in New South Wales and southern Queensland. This follows similar warnings across other states as the weather warms up across Australia.
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.
All the websites say the programs and loans are only available for ‘defined’ or ‘declared’ natural disasters. How do I know if my area is included?
The federal government in September activated the Disaster Recovery Allowance (DRA) specifically to help anyone whose livelihood is impacted in northern NSW and southern Queensland.
NSW’s Rural Assistance Authority (RAA) has yet to declare current bushfires a natural disaster, which will open more of its services to the public. You can keep an eye on the current declarations here.
Queensland is also yet to define current 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 (ATO) also has disaster relief services available, but it hasn’t published a dedicated page for this year’s bushfires yet.
My business and income were affected by the bushfires. Now, I’m worried I don’t have enough money to get back on my feet.
Anyone in this position 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 RAA also has grants and low-interest loans of up to $130,000, which open for some declared natural disasters. The current bushfires have not yet been listed, but it may be worthwhile keeping tabs on the disaster recovery grants page.
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%.
Commonwealth Bank is also waiving certain charges and fees. It will also consider offering additional loans, increasing emergency credit limits and restructuring existing business loans, but this is still subject to credit approval. You can find out if your business qualifies by contacting it through its hotline.
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 DHS 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 many 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 (1300 728 228) that is open during business hours.
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 Financial Ombudsman.
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 I have been alerted they are in the area. How can I prepare?
If a bushfire hasn’t hit your area, it’s always a good idea to prepare.
Country Fire Australia’s (CFA) website includes guides specifically for businesses and councils.
In NSW, eligible farmers affected by declared natural disasters can apply for the natural disaster transport subsidy via RAA.
Primary producers in Queensland can also apply for a freight subsidy of up to $5,000 through the Department of Agriculture and Fisheries.
For Victoria, which is not yet at full alert but forecasted to experience heatwaves before the summer’s out, it may be worth downloading the VicEmergency App onto your phone to receive live updates from across the state departments and CFA.