When it rains, it pours

Photo courtesy of Laura Harris/Bevan Mathews

Financial Counselling client numbers are expected to dramatically rise as flood waters recede in the mud-soaked city of Townsville. Locally known as Brownsville due to its predominantly dry conditions, the North Queensland capital recently received one year’s rainfall over one week, causing a 1 in 100-year flooding event. The Insurance Council of Australia officially declared the deluge a catastrophe, with insurance losses likely to reach 1 billion dollars with over 1 thousand homes severely impacted by the floodwater damage.

This catastrophic event follows an extended economic downturn in the region and might be for many the straw that breaks the camel’s back. Townsville Enterprise’s September 2018 quarterly financial snapshot indicates the region’s labour market remains weakened, lying at 8.5%, 2.5% above the 6% state average. Personal insolvency stats in Townsville also remain the highest in regional Queensland, recording 90 new debtors in the December 2018 quarter with 14 of those being business related.

So what does this mean for ICAN’s financial counselling team in 2019? ICAN Operations Manager, Jon O’Mally predicts, “We will continue to see many people struggling in the Townsville region with complex financial counselling needs, including a significant number of insolvency cases, insurance advocacy matters and family/relationship breakdowns due to spiralling debt stress. More broadly, our organisation will need to advocate for an increased financial counselling presence in the Townsville region and monitor the insurance industries response to the event.”

ICAN’s Senior Financial Counsellor in Townsville, Ray Kent was lucky to escape the floods but is concerned about what impact the event will have on an already depressed economy. “Housing prices have been dropping for the past ten years, so many people have negative equity in their homes, effectively reducing their options,” said Mr Kent. “We’re already seeing insurance policies that don’t have flood cover, government grants that don’t recognise damage to consumer leased essential household items and renters that never had contents insurance, to begin with.”

Photo courtesy of Josh Roberts

ICAN CEO, Aaron Davis wants to see more proactive measures to address future natural disaster and economic crash events within the financial counselling sector. “I’d like to see a specialist training program developed for disaster events because we know the areas of financial counselling required are specific, yet quite complex. Once financial counsellors become ‘disaster qualified’, they could be put on a state or national association register, to be ‘called-up’ for some time when a disaster event occurs. A coordinated disaster response would ensure that people who have lost everything are provided with the best options when making critical financial decisions.”

If you or someone you know has been affected financially by flooding in Townsville or surrounding regions, please contact one of ICAN’s financial counsellors on 1300 369 878 for assistance.

There are also some government flood relief grants that can be accessed below.


✔️ Far North Queensland Floods – Australian Government Disaster Recovery Payment $1,000 per adult and $400 for each child https://bit.ly/2MTZeTj

✔️ Far North Queensland Floods, February 2019 – Disaster Recovery Allowance for short term payment if a disaster directly affects your income https://bit.ly/2SvVWL6

✔️ Essential Services Hardship Assistance Grant – Supports people directly impacted by a disaster when they have lost one or more essential services for five days. $150 per person, $750 for a family of five or more https://bit.ly/2SvVWL6

✔️ Emergency hardship assistance grant – Supports people directly impacted by a disaster to meet essential needs for food, clothing, medical supplies or temporary accommodation, $180 per person and up to $900 for a family of five or more https://bit.ly/2RAxpjL

✔️ Essential household contents grant – If you are uninsured or unable to claim insurance, you may be eligible for financial assistance towards replacing or repairing essential household contents. Up to $$1,765 for single adults and up to $5,300 https://bit.ly/2BpP2x8

✔️ Structural assistance grant – If you are uninsured or unable to claim insurance, you may be eligible for a one-off payment to contribute towards repairs to your home to make it secure and safe. Up to $10,995 for single adults and up to $14,685 for couples or families https://bit.ly/2UKPyx2

✔️ Essential services safety and reconnection grant – if you are uninsured, or are unable to claim insurance, you may be eligible for a grant to help reconnect essential services that were damaged by a disaster. Up to $200 towards a safety inspection for each essential service (electricity, gas, water and sewerage or septic system). Up to $4,200 towards repair work to enable essential services to be reconnected (for example, electrical wiring) https://bit.ly/2WQCfgn

✔️ Disaster Recovery Funding Arrangements (DRFA) Category B disaster assistance for small businesses impacted by flooding. Disaster assistance loans of up to $250,000, and essential working capital loans of up to $100,000 https://bit.ly/2UL8L1F

For further information and support, you can phone the Community Recovery Hotline on 1800 173 349. The Insurance Council has also activated its disaster hotline – 1800 734 621 – to assist policyholders if they are uncertain of their insurance details or have general inquiries about the claims process. Mobilised ICA representatives will work with local agencies, services and affected policyholders. Further information will be made available on www.disasters.org.au.

The Australian Financial Complaints Authority (AFCA) Townsville Floods Response Website Page.  AFCA offers free and accessible dispute resolution services to consumers and small businesses impacted by this event. If you have raised a complaint with your insurance company but you have been unable to resolve the matter, you can then go to them for assistance. Please note, they are only able to consider your complaint once you have raised the matter with your insurer.