Residents who’ve suffered property damage or evacuation due to the Nelson fires are being advised to take care when returning to their properties and to get in touch with their insurer.

Temporary accommodation is available under most domestic insurance policies. In some cases, it will be available for people who’ve been ordered out of their homes by a local or government authority. Some policies will require an insured’s home to be uninhabitable due to physical damage so people should check their individual insurance policies and call their insurer if they’re not sure what they’re covered for.

Before incurring any costs, customers will need to contact their insurer to get approval to incur costs for temporary accommodation. The choice of temporary accommodation should be of a similar standard to the insured house and additional costs such as travel, letting fees, utilities, meals, phone and internet will not be covered. Cover is generally for the accommodation of both homeowners and their pets.

Cover will be limited to a dollar value. Some insurers will pay covered customers at the beginning and others will reimburse them once costs have been incurred. In all cases, customers should retain all receipts and discuss how their temporary accommodation cover works with their insurer to understand what is and isn’t covered.

Reasonable costs of emergency evacuation are also often covered in home and contents policies, provided the evacuation is due to safety concerns or another emergency and the customer is either unable to access their home or has been advised against living in it by the Police or another government authority.

A large fire like the one currently burning in the Nelson area is not a one- or two-day event. Once people are able to return to their houses, they’re advised to take precautionary fire safety measures and continue to follow all instructions from local and government authorities.

Residents should

  • not do anything that puts their safety at risk or causes more damage to their property
  • contact their insurer or broker as soon as possible to seek advice about the claims process
  • speak to their insurer before attempting or authorising any building work, including emergency repairs
  • not turn on any electricity until it has been inspected by an electrician if fire has entered their property
  • notify their local authorities and check with their insurer or broker about whether they can claim temporary accommodation expenses if their home is not in a safe condition to occupy
  • take photos of damaged property to help speed up the assessments and claims process
  • keep any damaged items that don’t pose a health and safety risk
  • remove and discard any damaged goods that pose a health risk, such as soft furnishings or perishables, but take photos and make a list of anything they throw out and keep samples of materials and fabrics to show the insurance assessor
  • remain vigilant about the risk of another fire outbreak and take steps to reduce the risk of their property being damaged, including
    • clearing leaves, twigs, bark and other debris from roofs and gutters
    • moving flammable items away from buildings, such as woodpiles, gas bottles, crates, plastic wheelie bins, hanging baskets and garden furniture.
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