A woman who lost everything in the Dunn's Road fire says she was initially denied bushfire relief through a charity because she did not have a utilities bill.
Professor Sue Townsend and her husband lost their Tumbarumba home on December 31. They had only recently moved into the two-bedroom cottage and hadn't insured it yet as they planned to renovate.
When they went to bed on December 30, the fire was near Adelong, around 60 kilometres north. A member of the Rural Fire Service knocked on their door at 2.30am, telling them they had two hours to get out.
They each managed to get a suitcase of clothes but when they applied for $5000 in aid from the Red Cross, they were knocked back because they did not have a utility bill as proof of address.
"I spoke to a person on the phone from the Red Cross saying this is ridiculous, your house is burning down, the last thing you think about grabbing is a utilities bill," Professor Townsend told the Royal Commission into National Natural Disaster Arrangements on Monday.
The couple later received $20,000 in aid from the Red Cross, after charities received a public lashing for failing to distribute donations fast enough.
By comparison, Professor Townsend received $1000 from St Vincent de Paul without even applying. Several weeks later, she received another $3000.
Professor Townsend said she has been luckier than most and is grateful for the aid.
But in the five months since, she has had to prove her house burnt down at least once a month.
Professor Townsend said there needed to be better coordination between agencies to prevent people in distress being forced to jump through unnecessary hoops.
"You hear that this has been unprecedented, well I sort of question that. Some of these organisations are large international aid organisations. They should know how to deal with crisis on this level," Professor Townsend said.
"I would argue that as horrible as the bushfires have been, they're easier than civil wars so if they can manage in a civil war situation ... then surely these bushfires were easier because no one's shooting at them."
Professor Townsend said Centrelnk aid was distributed in unequal ways. While she and her husband had $1000 land in their accounts within 15 minutes of speaking to someone on the assistance line, friends and family members who went to the branch in person were unlucky.
One friend, whose home was not lost but was living in emergency accommodation during the crisis, was offered a $9 loan from Centrelink despite the extra costs of living away from home. Her cousin, a nurse at the hospital which was closed, received nothing because she was technically employed.
Meanwhile insurers told the inquiry the last bushfire season may become the most damaging since 1925
An estimated 3094 were destroyed and in NSW, the cost of the damange is at least 2.5 higher than past seasons, Dr Ryan Crompton of Risk Frontiers told the commission.
"The Black Summer estimate to date, is a lower bound as it only includes destroyed houses and not other types of buildings," Dr Crompton said.
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