Disaster Legal Help Victoria

About insurance

This information is intended as an introduction only and should not be relied on in place of legal advice. Your entitlements will depend on your circumstances and the terms (including the conditions and exclusions) of your insurance policy.

If your home or property has been damaged or destroyed in a disaster, it is important to let your insurer know as soon as you can. If you have a broker, they can and should help with this. If not, most insurer websites have a helpline to guide you.

Before you proceed with a claim, you need to understand what is covered under your insurance policy. Read the information on this page carefully and seek help if you need to. It is important to understand the terms and conditions of your policy and any information your insurer sends you.

Do not sign any documents until you fully understand what they mean.

Our Where to get help section contains contact information for support agencies that can provide you with guidance and, in some cases, legal advice to help you with your insurance claim. If you are unsure about any of the information on this page or need further assistance, you should contact these agencies.

Types of cover for homeowners

There are generally three types of insurance cover available to homeowners that may help in the event of a disaster, including:

  • home or building insurance
  • contents insurance (sometimes combined with building insurance and referred to as 'home and contents insurance')
  • public liability insurance (often included in your home and/or home and contents policy).

Where you are the landlord and renting out your home, it is also highly recommended that you have landlord insurance.

Home or building insurance

Your home insurance policy (also called property insurance or home building insurance) will cover you for damage caused by unintended or unexpected events affecting your home in most instances, including to:

  • the main dwelling
  • your garage
  • any other outbuildings that can be locked up or secured.

Most home policies cover damage caused by catastrophic events or 'disasters', such as bushfires, storms and cyclones.

Not all policies cover damage caused by floods.

It is important to understand the difference between storm (or rainwater) and flood damage to your home (see Insurance – storms and floods).

Contents insurance

Your contents insurance policy may cover you for loss of or damage to your possessions but not necessarily all contents of your home. It will depend on the wording of your policy but some ‘fixtures and fittings’ may be covered by home building insurance but not contents insurance if taken out alone.

Contents insurance will usually cover the cost to repair or replace household possessions and furnishings, such as your furniture, appliances and electronics. This generally includes items that belong to you and to family members who live with you. It does not usually cover items that are permanently attached to the building.

Different policies cover different items and limits, so check your policy carefully. Some policies may cover items such as clothing, jewellery and sporting equipment, while other insurers may need you to purchase additional cover for these kinds of items (or other such items that tend to be taken or used away from the home). Alternatively, the policies may have a specified limit on how much is covered. For example, a policy may only cover jewellery and watches up to a limit of $2,500, and for individual items you may need proof of purchase or a valuation.

Contents insurance can be purchased by both homeowners and tenants. Tenant’s possessions are not covered by the landlord’s home and/or home and contents policies.

If you are unsure what you are covered for, contact one of the support agencies listed in the Where to get help section.

Home and contents insurance

Most homeowners have both home and contents insurance. This coverage means that most, if not all, of your losses are covered.

Extent of cover

Sum insured or limit of liability cover

Most home and/or contents insurance policies are for a specified ‘sum insured’ or a ‘limit of liability’ amount. This means you are insured up to that dollar amount. For losses beyond this, you may be uninsured.

In most cases, once your losses are proven, your insurer should reimburse you for the damage and value of your home and/or contents based on the condition they were in just before they were damaged or destroyed.

Check your policy carefully to see if any ‘additional cover’ is provided. Some policies also cover items like emergency accommodation, making a site safe and clean, and professional fees for architects, accountants and planners. The total sum insured or limit of liability amount may incorporate these extra costs so they are not ‘in addition to’ the costs of replacing damaged property or possessions.

If you are unsure what your policy covers, you should contact your broker or one of the support agencies listed in Where to get help.

Rebuilding costs

Local governments have introduced extra requirements on rebuilding in areas affected by bushfires. This can increase the cost of rebuilding your property. If you choose a sum insured policy for a specific amount of money, it is important that you understand the true cost of rebuilding your property to make sure you have sufficient cover if there is a disaster.

It is beneficial to understand whether your insurer will cover rebuilding if you were to lose your house again if another disaster occurs.

Some tips to work out the true cost of rebuilding or replacing your property:

  • Use online home and contents calculators. Many insurers now have calculators on their websites.
  • Go through each room of your house and write a list of fixed items and contents. Take photos, too. The detailed list and photos may be useful later if you need to make a claim.
  • Speak to a builder or professional valuer about the cost of rebuilding your property and any external structures should your home be destroyed or damaged.

Total replacement cover

Some home insurance policies are not for an agreed amount but instead cover the replacement of any buildings. This is referred to as a ‘total replacement’ or ‘complete replacement’ policy. Total replacement cover pays out the full amount needed to replace damaged property with a new property, without considering the depreciated (reduced) value of the property over time. It is often referred to by insurers as ‘new for old’ cover.

Usually, total replacement policies give the insurer the option to either:

  • repair or rebuild your property (depending on the extent of damage), or
  • meet the cost of repairing or rebuilding your home to the same size and standard that it was in before the disaster occurred.

Total replacement policies offer better protection against underinsurance than sum insured policies, but they are usually more expensive.

Policyholders also have the option of taking out ‘new for old’ cover in their contents insurance. Again, this comes at an increased premium.

Public liability insurance

Public liability insurance is usually included in your home and/or home and contents insurance policy.

Usually, it will cover an owner’s liability for injury or death to a person that occurs on your property if a claim is made against the owner based on negligence or is omitting to do something to make the property safe.

You can buy separate public liability insurance if you are not already covered under your home insurance policy.

Landlord insurance

Landlord insurance covers the cost of replacement and repairs required to a damaged residential investment property. It will generally cover losses such as rent if your tenants are forced out of the property due to damage caused by a disaster (especially where it makes the place uninhabitable).

Landlord insurance is not mandatory, but it is recommended. Most banks and mortgage lenders require this coverage and for the lending party to be noted as an ‘interested party’.

Lodging a claim

Here are the first steps you should take after a disaster (when it is safe to do so) to prepare to lodge your insurance claim:

  1. Notify your insurer (via your broker if you have one) that your property has been affected. This flags the event on their system so they can allocate a claim number and be ready to help.
  2. Take photographs and videos of the damage.
  3. Secure your property from further damage where possible – for example, by putting a tarp over contents or moving them under shelter. Take photographs and videos to prove this.
  4. Try not to throw away any damaged goods, as this makes it difficult to provide your insurer with proof that items were damaged. If you need to throw away hazardous or dangerous items, make sure you document them with photographs or videos first. If you can, contact your insurer and speak with them before discarding anything.

Remember that the safety of you and your loved ones comes first so do not do anything to put yourself in danger.

When you make a claim, you are notifying your insurer about the loss or damage that you believe is covered by your policy. Your insurer will review your claim and, if it is accepted, work out the value of it (usually by appointing a loss adjuster or assessor) and ultimately arranging repairs or building and/or providing the benefit or payout to you.

Different insurers have slightly different processes, but the following steps will help guide you in lodging your claim:

  1. Contact your insurer as soon as possible after the event happens. Even if you don’t know the full extent of the damage to your property, you should still contact your insurer as soon as you can. Don’t worry if your policy documents have been lost or destroyed as your insurer will have your details.
  2. Your insurer may be able to process your claim over the phone. Otherwise, they will provide you with a form to fill in.
  3. Insurers may request certain documents and evidence to support your claim. Your insurer may request things like proof of ownership, receipts, valuation reports, photographs, and videos. It is a good idea to write out your version of the event while it is fresh in your mind and take photographs and videos of the damage as soon as possible. Where you have suffered a total loss, such as your house burning down, your claim should be treated with sensitivity. If you are unable to provide proof of ownership because it was lost in the event, do not panic. There are other ways that the insurer/assessor can help to evaluate the loss.
  4. If your claim is large, the insurer will usually ask a loss adjuster or an assessor to examine the circumstances, identify what is a total loss versus what is salvageable, and determine the value of that loss or damage.
  5. You should cooperate with your insurer and any appointed assessor to get repair quotes and agree on a plan for the work. The insurer may send qualified tradespeople to your property to quote for repair work, or you may be asked to find your own quotes for the insurer to consider, depending on the extent of the damage.
  6. Insurers should respond to your claim within 10 business days. If the insurer does not require any further information, assessment, or investigation, they may may a quick decision on whether your claim is accepted or denied. If the insurer does require further information or assessment, they will contact you within 10 business days to request this information and explain to you what happens next. The insurer will make its final decision within four months of receiving your claim, unless exceptional circumstances apply. Exceptional circumstances include where there has been a catastrophe or disaster declared by the Insurance Council of Australia and can include fires, floods and earthquakes. In exceptional circumstances, the insurer has 12 months to make their final decision because of the volume of claims.

If you can prove to your insurer that you urgently need the money available under your insurance policy as a result of the disaster, and it is clear you are entitled to cover for your claim, your insurer must do either or both of the following:

  • Fast-track the assessment and decision process for your claim.
  • Make an advance payment to you within five business days. Any advance payment will be taken off the total value of your claim at the end.

Insurance claims management companies may promise to help you calculate your insurance claim for a fee. If you are thinking about using a claims management company, you should contact one of the support agencies listed in Where to get help for more information first.

Disputing an insurance decision

If your claim has been finalised and you believe the assessment of your loss was wrong, you have the following options:

  • If you received your settlement within one month after the disaster, you have 12 months to request a review. Your insurer should let you know about this entitlement when they finalise your claim.
  • If you received your settlement more than one month after the disaster, you will need to lodge an internal dispute resolution complaint. If you need help lodging your complaint, contact one of the support agencies listed in Where to get help.
  • If you are unhappy with the result from the internal dispute resolution process, you can take your claim to the Australian Financial Complaints Authority (AFCA)External Link . You must raise the matter with AFCA within two years of the final internal dispute resolution response of the insurer.

Internal dispute resolution involves making a complaint to your insurer directly. Your insurer must provide you with information on its internal dispute resolution process, including details of how to lodge a complaint and how it will deal with your complaint. This information should be included in your insurer’s Product Disclosure Statement (PDS) and may also be set out on your insurer’s website.

Your insurer will have someone review your complaint and write to you to let you know the outcome, or to request more information. Your insurer has 30 calendar days to make a decision about your complaint and provide reasons for its decision. If you are still unhappy with the outcome, your insurer will provide you with information about other complaint options available to you, including external dispute resolution.

Your insurer is required to be part of a free and independent external dispute resolution scheme managed by AFCA. AFCA can mediate between you and your insurer. If mediation is unsuccessful, AFCA can make decisions (called determinations) that the insurer must comply with. You should contact AFCAExternal Link as soon as possible if you are not satisfied with your insurer’s internal dispute resolution decision.

You must request an internal review from your insurer before raising the matter with AFCA. You must raise the issue with AFCA within two years of the final internal dispute resolution response of your insurer.

Lapsed insurance

If you do not pay a premium instalment by the due date, your insurer has the right to cancel your policy. They must first provide you with a written notice about your non-payment at least 14 calendar days before any cancellation. When you get this notice, you can make the late payment to avoid cancellation. If you do not pay, your insurer will send you another notice informing you that your policy is being cancelled. If your insurer has validly cancelled your policy due to non-payment, they are likely to deny your claim after a disaster.

Most insurance policies run for 12 months. Your insurer must tell you in writing that your policy is going to end. This will usually be 14 days before, but information about your policy will be on your PDS. If your insurer did not give you notice as required by your PDS, your policy may not validly lapse and you will still be covered. Check your PDS carefully and contact one of the support agencies listed in Where to get help if you need assistance.


Being underinsured means your insurance policy payout is not enough to meet the value of your damaged home and property. This can mean that you end up being out of pocket for the difference.

If your property is underinsured and you cannot afford to rebuild, and your sum insured amount was decided on or recommended by your insurer, broker, mortgage provider, or other financial institution, you may be able to lodge a complaint. That person or institution may have given you inappropriate advice. For more information, contact one of the support agencies listed in Where to get help.

If you cannot afford to rebuild and you are left with a shortfall (gap) between the value of your property and the amount on your mortgage, you should contact a financial counsellor.

If your policy lapsed or was cancelled recently, you are unlikely to be able to make a claim. If you were a long-term customer of your insurer, it is worth contacting them to check if there is anything they can do to help you, especially if any failure to renew your policy was an accidental oversight or there are extenuating circumstances. You could also contact one of the support agencies listed in Where to get help.

Other insurance cover

Most people have some life insurance cover in their superannuation policy. If you have lost a family member in a disaster, contact their superannuation fund to ascertain if you (or your family members) are a beneficiary and make a claim to release their superannuation and life insurance.

While it is rare to get your own superannuation early, you may be able to access it on compassionate or financial hardship grounds. Your superannuation fund may also include cover for total and permanent disability if you cannot continue working because of an injury or illness sustained as a result of the disaster. For more information, see our page on Superannuation – early access.

You also may have consumer credit insurance on a personal loan, mortgage, or credit card. This should provide protection if something happens that means you cannot make payments on your loan. Examples include if:

  • you lose your job
  • you get sick or have an accident
  • there has been a death in the family.

If you borrowed money with another person and they die in a disaster, you may have loss-of-life cover. Contact your loan provider and get help from one of the support agencies listed in Where to get help.

Where to get help

For legal information and referrals, call Disaster Legal Help Victoria on 1800 113 432 (Monday to Friday, 8 am to 6 pm). You can also contact your closest community legal centreExternal Link to get advice from a local lawyer.

For more support options, see Other organisations that can helpExternal Link or find Other ways to contact usExternal Link .

Australian Financial Complaints Authority

The Australian Financial Complaints AuthorityExternal Link offers dispute resolution for the financial services industry, covering consumer complaints about credit, finance and loans, insurance, banking deposits and payments, investments and financial advice, and superannuation.

Call 1800 931 678, Monday to Friday, 9 am to 5 pm.

Consumer Action Law Centre

The Consumer Action Law Centre (CALC)External Link offers legal advice and financial counselling for vulnerable people in Australia.

Call 1800 466 477 between 10 am and 1 pm on Tuesdays, Wednesdays and Thursdays.

You can also get online legal help by using the 'Chat with us' button on the CALC websiteExternal Link .

Insurance Law Service

The Insurance Law ServiceExternal Link provides legal advice about insurance problems for people under financial stress.

Call 1300 663 464, Monday to Friday, 10 am to 1 pm.

Reviewed 17 November 2023