With many Australians already affected by floods and others still at risk, we've put together some simple steps to help people prepare for insurance claims.
"Natural disasters can be one of the most complex issues to navigate when it comes to insurance," says CHOICE insurance expert Jodi Bird.
"We know it's a stressful time for many Australians already impacted or at risk of floods, but there are some simple things you can do right now to make things easier should you need to make a claim."
If you have hard copies of your insurance documents, make sure they're packed in your bag ready to take with you if you need to evacuate your home. Having paper copies on hand, as well as easy access to digital versions, will make them easier to refer to if you need to speak to your insurer.
If you're not sure exactly what you're covered for, now is the time to find out. Get to know the details of your policy inside and out, including what you may not be covered for. All of this information will be in your Product Disclosure Statement (PDS) given to you when you bought the cover.
Keep in mind that many insurance policies come with waiting periods for flood, usually 48–72 hours
If you think you want to take out flood cover for the immediate future, keep in mind that many insurance policies come with waiting periods for flood, usually 48–72 hours. You'll have to serve this waiting period if you weren't previously insured, are upgrading your cover, or are increasing your sum insured amount.
When it comes to insurance claims, your smartphone is your friend. Take photos all across your home now – major features of the property, valuable possessions and anything that can help you demonstrate the before and after.
Also take photos or make hard copies of any receipts for larger items in case you need to prove their value.
Store these photos in the 'cloud', which means you'll be able to access them anytime from any internet-connected device, no matter where you are. If you need to make a claim and it's safe to do so, take extensive photos of the damage. Read our advice on finding a reliable cloud storage service.
Don't worry about making a claim until you and your property are safe and secure.
Once you're ready, bear in mind that many insurers may be experiencing high call volumes, so be patient. You may want to contact your insurer via phone or online, depending on the circumstances and claims process.
Whichever way you proceed, it's important that you keep a record of all interactions you have with your insurer. If necessary, they'll send someone to do initial make-safe repairs to prevent further damage. Our guide to making a claim on home and contents insurance can help make the process less stressful.
How to make a complaint
If you believe your claim has been unfairly refused, contact the insurer's internal dispute resolution team. If you don't get a satisfactory result, contact the Australian Financial Complaints Authority (AFCA).Other places to get help include:
- Insurance Law Service, phone 1300 663 464
- Mob Strong, Debt Help for Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander peoples, phone 1800 808 488.
The devastating east coast floods in February and March 2022 resulted in about 233,000 insurance claims, with about half of those still to be processed six months later. Many victims braved the winter in temporary accommodation, and rebuilding may take years.
The official declaration of a rare third consecutive La Niña weather pattern in mid 2022 was a wake-up call to make sure you have the right cover should the worst happen.
According to Jodi Bird, "While most insurers cover flood as per the standard definition of 'flood' that CHOICE advocated for way back in 2011, they may still exclude 'storm surge', where the sea rises above its normal tidal level during a storm or cyclone, and 'actions of the sea', which is generally tidal and wave damage.
Check that you're insured for enough to cover the cost of your home and all your belongings – and update your cover if you need to
"This is the kind of detail you need to check for in your product disclosure statement, and it's also listed in the CHOICE home insurance comparison, so you can see at a glance which insurers cover it and which don't."
You should also check that you're insured for enough to cover the cost of your home and all your belongings – and update your cover if you need to or shop around for a better deal.
Rising building costs
Most insurers automatically increase your sum insured amount every year to account for inflation, but it pays to do your own assessment of potential rebuilding costs.
Labour and supply shortages attributed to the COVID-19 pandemic have increased building costs, and the costs to rebuild often increase after a natural disaster anyway, as demand for builders and materials surges when a large number of buildings have been damaged. Older houses that have been damaged may also need to be upgraded to meet higher building standards.
Take your insurer's calculator with a grain of salt and consider getting an estimate from a builder or quantity surveyor.
Stock images: Getty, unless otherwise stated.