The destructive Lancefield bushfires earlier this month are a timely reminder of Fire Action Week (1-8 November) and the need for Victorians to be legally prepared for the summer fire season ahead.

Disaster Legal Help coordinates the legal sector response to disasters. It is a collaboration between Victoria Legal Aid, the Federation of Community Legal Centres, the Law Institute of Victoria, Victoria Law Foundation, Justice Connect and the Victorian Bar.

Victoria Legal Aid lawyer Joel Townsend, who worked with victims of the Black Saturday fires, said the main legal problems people had were around insurance claims, property damage and accommodation issues.

‘It’s not a pleasant thought but if you lose your home and belongings, you may have some legal questions and that’s where we come in,’ he said.

‘You should check that your insurance is up-to-date and has the right cover for fire and flood. Also make sure you are ready to lodge a claim soon after the event.’

Footscray Community Legal Centre lawyer Denis Nelthorpe recommends keeping an important documents kit.

‘When you are dealing with organisations after a disaster it is easier if you have all your documents, account numbers, wills and passports ready in your kit,’ said Dennis.

'It should include a description of your home and a list of your valuable belongings.’

Important documents and bank account details should also be scanned and kept securely online so they can be retrieved in the event of hard copies being destroyed.

Also keep a list of key contacts you may need for dealing with recovery from a disaster. Include the Victoria Legal Aid disaster help line on 1800 113 432, as well as phone numbers for your insurance company, power company, bank, doctor, Centrelink and local council.

Disaster Legal Help has volunteer lawyers in the field as early as possible after a bushfire to help in recovery centres, so look out for notices in any local recovery publication.

Lawyers also provide follow-up sessions six to eight weeks after the disaster. ‘That’s when the problems become apparent in insurance claims,’ said Joel. ‘It really helps to have someone to look at the issue and to suggest how to best navigate the system.’

If you need legal help after a disaster, call Victoria Legal Aid’s dedicated disaster line on 1800 113 432 or go to www.disasterlegalhelp.org.au

*Joel Townsend is available for interview.

Media contact: Communications Officer Kevin McKertich 9269 0279 or Kevin.McKertich@vla.vic.gov.au