A charity that came under attack for failing to get money out to bushfire victims fast enough at the height of the crisis says it was hamstrung by government rules.
The St Vincent de Paul Society has distributed just $12.35 million of the $23.4 million in donations it raised for bushfire relief. It has also only been able to distribute 40 per cent of the $11 million it received in Commonwealth Emergency Relief Funding.
Liberal MP Andrew Constance blasted the Red Cross, Salvation Army and St Vincent De Paul for "drip-feeding" donations to bushfire-affected communities.
"The money is needed now, not sitting in a Red Cross bank account earning interest so they can map out their next three years and do their marketing," Mr Constance said.
But in a submission to the Royal Commission on National Natural Disaster Arrangements, the charity said the strict rules around how Commonwealth grants can be expended meant it was unable to get money to some people in need.
St Vincent de Paul Society chief executive Toby O'Connor also hit out at critics who lashed charities for taking too long to distribute money, saying the reputational damage hindered the flow of donations and devastated volunteers at a time they needed support.
"Further, the criticisms implied that the Society was holding on to funds when, in fact, nothing could be further from the truth. The Society prides itself on operating with minimal overheads and is compliant with the Australian Charities and Not-for-profits Commission and relevant fundraising laws," Mr O'Connor said.
"At a time when the Society needed to direct all of its resources to responding to need, its efforts were instead diverted to managing and responding to criticisms.
"Reporting to government was also increased, even though existing accountability requirements were already being met. Most concerningly, it appeared that assessment of services was based solely on expediency and not quality."
Mr O'Connor said the criticism was even more unfair, given St Vincent de Paul Society had unsuccessfully tried to increase the limit of cash payments through the Commonwealth Emergency Relief funding pool raised from $1000 to $3000 to get money out faster.
"The request was rejected, and the Society advised that the funding limit had been set by government," Mr O'Connor said.
The administrative hoops the charity had to jump through - such as identifying suitable grant recipients - took time, and there was little latitude within the Commonwealth grants rules and guidelines even when responding to a natural disaster.
The restrictions meant funds provided through the Commonwealth Emergency Relief pool could only be used for immediate basic needs, such as supermarket or petrol vouchers, and not tools or trauma counselling.
"For example, many in 'bush areas' did not have reticulated water and were not on the national electricity grid. Their needs revolved around purchasing tanks and related plumbing and emergency generators. Not only was the Commonwealth $1000 cash payment inadequate, it could not be used for this purpose," Mr O'Connor said.
"Guidelines and criteria developed by governments to determine who qualifies for funding need to be more flexible."
The federal government has also been under fire over the delays in getting aid to bushfire survivors, with some people still living in tents months after the crisis.
St Vincent de Paul Society said it was still receiving requests for help more than six months later.
Prime Minister Scott Morrison on Monday announced fire-hit communities would receive another $650 million to support their recovery.
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