Major players in the wealth management industry are taking steps to help those affected by the ongoing bushfires, with the crisis also sparking debate over whether early access to superannuation savings should be made available.
This week the Financial Services Council launched a tool to help bushfire affected Australians and their beneficiaries locate life insurance policies in the event they cannot find or remember their policy details in the aftermath of the disaster.
Speaking with Financial Standard, FSC life insurance senior policy manager Nick Kirwan revealed the Council had fielded inquiries this week from people who need to know more about their own life insurance policies (or those of a loved one), after being impacted by the bushfires currently burning across New South Wales and Victoria.
"People want to find out whether or not they've got an insurance policy," Kirwan said.
In an effort to do what it can to assist, the FSC has endeavored to contact its life insurance members on behalf of those affected, and have them check their records to determine whether they have a policy or hold other relevant information for those people.
It comes amid calls by some in the wealth industry for the government to allow survivors early access to super to help rebuild their lives, Kirwan reiterated the FSC's stance that superannuation was designed only to allow Australians to be self-sufficient in retirement.
He said accessing superannuation early should be seen by those affected by bushfires as a last resort, rather than replacing other forms of financial support for victims of disasters.
"In very limited circumstances - such as when a person has been diagnosed with a terminal illness or is facing severe and immediate financial hardship - there are provisions to allow superannuation to be released early," Kirwan said.
"It should not be necessary for individuals to access their retirement savings to fund their current needs unless there are critical circumstances which cannot be solved by other means.
"Australians currently facing severe financial hardship due to the bushfires should contact their superannuation fund to their discuss options."
Meanwhile, Industry Super Australia has also pledged its support to the bushfire affected, with ISA member funds committed to fast tracking claims and enquiries made by survivors, fire fighters and those helping with recovery efforts.
ISA said industry funds were analysing their data to identify members and employers in bushfire areas, and working on the best ways to provide support in the short term.
"Industry super funds stand ready to provide their members affected by the bushfires with the support they need when they need it," Industry Super Australia head of research Nick Coates said.
"This is one small way industry super funds can help, by making it easier for thousands of Australians impacted by bushfires to get the information, service and support they deserve."
ISA said those with questions about their super or the support available should call their fund directly.
The FSC's Kirwan said those wishing to inquire about group insurance held through their superannuation should contact their fund, as life insurers don't hold the details of individuals covered by group policies.
The FSC is urging those unaware of their super fund to use their tax file number to locate any lost super using the ATO's unclaimed super registers page.
The FSC has also asked affected Australians to fill in the template published on its website and email it to email@example.com, remembering to include the two consent paragraphs specified on the template's webpage.
"They can look at our website, get in touch with us, and we'll find out for them," Kirwan said.
"The first calls came in on Monday, and we thought we ought to do something to respond to it. So we said 'Let's do this quickly, let's sort it out.'"
Kirwan said the FSC envisaged a number of scenarios where it might be able to help, including when people need to make a claim for a loved one or relative in the case of a fatality, or in cases where a person needs to make a claim for themselves due to injury.
He added almost all of those who had used the process since Monday had already received information from one of the FSC's life insurance members.