Where to start with a flood insurance claim and what to do if you’re a renter

Shepparton floods

Many flood-affected Victorians have returned home to confront the mammoth clean-up task that now lies ahead.

It can be an overwhelming situation for people assessing the damage to their homes and trying to work out where to start.

At one community meeting in the Shepparton region, several residents raised concerns about whether or not throwing items away would impact insurance claims.

The Insurance Council of Australia has laid out some advice to help people navigate insurance claims and where to start.

‘Lots of photos’

Communications and public relations manager Lisa Kable said first and foremost, those impacted shouldn’t wait for an assessor to view the damage before starting the cleanup process.

She said everything should be photographed and documents before being disposed of.

“Before you start to clean up take photos,” she said.

“We’ve all got iPhones and iPads … take lots and lots of photos of the damage in situ, take videos as well, of the property, the content, and anything that will support your claim.”


Flood damage in home

The clean-up is underway in Rochester.(ABC Central Victoria: Sarah Lawrence)

Ms Kable said health should always be a priority and any items that could generate mould or dampness should be disposed of straight away.

“If you have an item that has been damaged by water, particularly soft furnishing, so carpet, mattresses, lounges, clothing, and curtains, if it’s safe to do so take a small sample and then dispose of those items because they pose a health risk,” she said.

The samples can be used by insurers to match the quality of items in need of replacement.

Items that can be repaired should not be thrown away.

Ms Kable said if water had inundated a home residents should not turn on the electricity until it has been inspected by a qualified electrician.


flood damage on home floor
Residents don’t have to wait for assessors to view the property before throwing things away, but it’s a good idea to record everything.(ABC Goulburn Murray: Anna Chisholm)

What if I rent?

Tenants Victoria said either the renter or the landlord could issue a notice to vacate and end the lease immediately if a property was uninhabitable because of flood damage.

Photos will need to be supplied as evidence to support the request.

When asked if renters could stop paying rent at that stage, chief executive Jennifer Beveridge said each case was different and different advice could apply.

The organisation is providing legal advice on a range of issues, including the breaking of leases and rent reduction or compensation requests.

Ms Beveridge said the landlord was responsible for damage to the property itself, but in most cases and individual’s insurance policy would apply to personal items damaged in an event that was not the fault of the landlord, such as a flood.

She is anticipating the housing crisis and a shortage of rentals to be amplified by the flooding.

“We know that over the last couple of years regional areas have been particularly hard hit by the rental crisis,” Ms Beveridge said.

“It’s a tragedy that the very people who probably have tried very hard to secure a home that they rent are now the people whose homes have been impacted so significantly.”

A priority phone line for renters impacted by the floods has been set up and there are other organisations that can assist with finding suitable accommodation.

Ms Beveridge said there could be significant wait-times, but she encouraged renters to call for more information.


Shepparton floods
Flood-affected residents have raised concerns about what can be thrown out without impacting insurance claims.(ABC News: Patrick Rocca)

Claim lodged — now what?

The Insurance Council of Australia has declared a catastrophe, which means the insurers will start to triage claims as they are lodged.

The organisation said more than 9,200 claims had been lodged so far, 90 per cent of which were from Victoria.

It anticipates that number to grow as more people return home and assess the damage.

With such a high volume of claims, residents are being urged to be patient.

“At the moment it’s not necessarily safe for insurance representatives and the community to go into areas that are currently at risk,” Ms Kable said.

“As soon as the situation becomes safer assessors will be dispatched to the region to start the assessment process.”

Properties must be assessed before repairs and rebuilds can take place or replacements be sourced.


Home flooded in Mooroopna
Residents in Mooroopna did all they could to protect their homes as the water rose.(ABC News: Nicole Asher)

How long that may take is unknown, so the advice is to start the process as soon as possible by contacting insurance companies.

Some insurers will supply an initial cash payment for things like groceries or emergency accommodation.

But for those who are finding it too overwhelming at the moment, Ms Kable said many insurers were allowing a two-year window for claims to be lodged.

She said it was important to confirm those deadlines with individual insurers.


Image Credit: ABC Goulburn Murray/Patrick Rocca, ABC Central Victoria/Sarah Lawrence, ABC Goulburn Murray/Anna Chisholm, ABC News/Nicole Asher


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