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This Is What To Do If You Are Affected By The Bushfires

Catastrophic bushfires ripping through NSW have already killed three people, destroyed more than 150 homes and blackened a million hectares -- but we’re being warned the worst is yet to come.

A state of emergency was declared as residents prepared for extreme and unprecedented conditions on Tuesday, similar to those seen during Victoria's Black Saturday bushfires.

FOLLOW 10 DAILY'S BUSHFIRE COVERAGE

The Rural Fire Service warned that fires, particularly on the north coast, would not be contained ahead of Tuesday’s hot, gusty conditions and are expected to spread “quickly” and “aggressively”.

The ruins of a house smouldering on Old Bar road Near Taree, NSW. Image: Darren Pateman/ AAP

The initial damage has prompted the Insurance Council of Australia to declare a catastrophe in the affected areas to allow those who've lost their homes, or whose properties have suffered significant damage to be given priority by all insurers.

It's the fourth time this year that such a call has been made. The most recent was the Rappville fires just last month.

Making an insurance claim can be daunting and tricky so we’ve condensed the information, to ensure you, or your loved one can get the ball rolling.

Every resource is being used on Tuesday to fight the fires. Image: Twitter/ NSW RFS.
CONTACT YOUR INSURER IMMEDIATELY

If you know your property has been damaged, contact your insurer immediately. Even if you are unsure of the extent of the damage, it's better to get the claim moving as soon as possible.

If you don’t have your insurance documents, don’t stress, all insurers keep electronic records. If you don’t remember which insurer you are with, call the Insurance Council of Australia (ICA) disaster hotline on 1800 734 621.

"People forget what insurer they are with -- it’s an entirely normal thing to do. Call the insurer hotline. It is there for you to use and to try and reduce the stress and strain of the situation," Fuller said.

Port Macquarie fire. Image: Supplied.
STAY AWAY FROM YOUR PROPERTY UNTIL DECLARED SAFE

All residents are being urged to stay away from their property until they are told it is safe, no matter how desperate you are to assess the damage.

"Don’t take risks," ICA spokesperson Campbell Fuller told 10 daily.

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"Don’t go back into your property until it’s safe to do so and preferably when emergency services have given you permission to go through".

If your home is unsafe or destroyed, contact your local authorities immediately and ask your insurance company if your policy covers temporary housing expenses.

Image: AAP
TAKE PHOTOS OF EVERYTHING

Take photos and videos of absolutely everything on your property to help assessors with your claim.

You can throw out anything that is damaged and could be a health risk such as carpets or soft furnishings but ensure you take photographs and keep samples of materials and fabrics before you do so.

Keep anything that can be repaired and as always, if in doubt contact your insurance provider.

A dehydrated and injured Koala receives treatment at the Port Macquarie Koala Hospital after its rescue from a bushfire. Image: Getty
DO NOT CARRY OUT ANY MAINTENANCE WORK WITHOUT APPROVAL

This is essential. The ICA warns that unauthorized work on your property will not be covered by your insurance policy.

Cash jobs by labourers will also not be covered.

"Even with legitimate builders, speak to your insurer before you begin any building work on your property," Fuller said.

"We frequently see are dodgy tradies offering to do emergency work for cash. We strongly recommend these offers be rejected. Work for cash is usually not going to be covered by insurance... and can leave people legally exposed," he continued.

Check everything with your insurer first.

Firefighters work to contain a bushfire along Old Bar road in Old Bar, NSW, Saturday, November 9, 2019. Image: AAP Image/Darren Pateman
HOW LONG WILL IT TAKE FOR DAMAGE TO BE ASSESSED?

That is the golden question.

Fuller confirmed that it depends on a number of factors including your policy, the extent of the damage and how you quickly the complaint is lodged.

"That's the unknown because each policy is different and every single claim is different," he said.

As mentioned, claims associated with the devastating bushfires will be prioritized and assessed first. Specialised mobile disaster recovery will be on the ground to help property owners and local community groups.

Brisbane's Southbank on Monday afternoon. Image: Twitter/Christopher Joonas Tiainen.
WHAT HAPPENS TO THOSE WHO HAVE NO INSURANCE?

The greatest concern is for those Australians who are uninsured or underinsured and will, therefore, be largely left alone to pick up the pieces.

A huge 80 percent of property owners are underinsured, 23 percent, or 1.8 million don't have insurance at all, while well over half of those in rentals do not have contents insurance, the AIC quotes.

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"If [the those affected by the bushfires] have lost everything they are entirely reliant on the charity of family, friends, strangers and the government," Fuller told 10 daily.

"The government will not rebuild homes”.

They will however, offer assistance to those in need.

EMERGENCY ASSISTANCE MONEY IS AVAILABLE

Emergency financial assistance is available for anyone whose homes have been severely damaged or destroyed, who have been seriously injured or who have lost a family member in the fires.

The Australian Government Disaster Recovery Payments provides a one-off lump sum of $1,000 for adults and $400 for each eligible child under the age of 16.

“This is cash in the hand to give families dignity and help them recover from the fires,“ Minister for Natural Disaster and Emergency Management, David Littleproud said.

Currently the payment is available in the Glen Innes Severn, Kempsey, Mid Coast, Nambucca, Port Macquarie-Hastings and Walcha local government areas.

“We’ve also activated the Disaster Recovery Allowance providing eligible applicants up to 13 weeks income support,” Littleproud said, explaining that the payments were for those who have lost their income as a direct result of the fires.