Devil in detail for Morwell insurance payouts

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The likelihood of insurance payouts for Morwell households blanketed in coal ash from the Hazelwood mine fire will come down to the fine print of individual policies, a financial adviser has warned.

Some backyards along Wallace Street in Morwell’s south have bore the brunt of four weeks worth of smoky ash fallout, with some yards seen by The Express covered in a five millimetre layer of ash.

While some residents have successfully minimised the spread of ash inside their homes, older homes have seen the coarse soot invade roof cavities, carpets and cupboards, despite numerous clean out attempts by residents.

Running her finger along an internal window sill hidden under a layer of grey and brown ash flakes, Wallace Street resident Tineke Stratford described her home as a ‘toxic bomb site”.

“We are going to need to strip the entire house to clean this up – the curtains, the carpet, this place is completely covered,” Ms Stratford said.

She has already been informed by her insurance company any damage from air pollution, ash and soot was not covered unless the source was from within 10 metres of her property, or from the property itself.

“It’s pretty unfair – some other policies might cover for this sort of thing, but ours certainly doesn’t,” Ms Stratford said.

A door knock along Wallace Street by The Express on Friday found residents experiencing a range of insurance cover scenarios – for some residents any cleanup costs would be fully reimbursed, while others were less fortunate.

Researcher for financial consumer advice group Canstar, Mitchell Watson, said due to the uniqueness of the Hazelwood fire event, insured residents were at the whim of policy fine print definitions and criteria.

“The fine print regarding natural disasters have attracted some fairly complex fine print criteria, especially since the Queensland floods, however this could be seen as an industrial disaster, which could attract its own finer points,” Mr Watson said.

“I think with any insurance policy people need to be aware of their terms and conditions – not all policies are created equal – however no one could have really foreseen this event occurring to this extent.”

An Insurance Council of Australia spokesperson said insurers were assessing claims on a case-by-case basis.

“The ICA urges policyholders to check with their insurer on whether dust or soot is covered under their home and contents policy, as policies are generally triggered only if damage occurs from an insurable event,” an ICA spokesperson said.

“Take pictures of damage to the property and possessions as evidence for your claim assessor. If possible, keep samples of materials and fabrics to show the assessor,” the spokesperson said.

“Store damaged or destroyed items somewhere safe (and) make an inventory of damaged possessions. This will help insurers process your claim.”

The spokesperson said residents should contact their insurer before making any repairs, unless it needed to be undertaken to make the property safe.