The Insurance Council of Australia (ICA) has declared a Catastrophe for damage caused by hailstorms that struck south-east Queensland over the Halloween weekend.

By 2:00 pm on Nov 1, insurers had received more than 5000 claims, with insured losses estimated at $60 million. About 60 per cent of claims are for damage to motor vehicles, and 40 per cent for damage to houses – mainly to roofs, skylights and solar panels, and interior damage to a significant proportion of homes.

ICA CEO Andrew Hall said insurers’ call centres were standing by to help customers affected by the storms. He encouraged householders whose properties had been damaged to contact their insurer as soon as they were able. Hardest-hit suburbs include Springfield, Rosewood, Greenbank and Boronia Heights.

“The Catastrophe declaration means insurers will prioritise claims from these hail-affected areas and will direct urgent attention to those most in need of assistance,” he said.

“Householders should contact their insurers before commissioning any repairs to their homes. They should ensure this work will be paid for under the policy.”

More than 8500 claims have been lodged by Nov 2, with insurance losses estimated above $110 million. About 40 per cent of claims are for damage to homes (including roofs, awnings, skylights, solar panels, windows and shutters) and contents; 60 per cent of claims are for damage to cars, vans and trucks.

This is the first Catastrophe declaration for the 2020-21 natural disaster season. Within hours of Saturday’s hailstorm however, disaster chasers had started door-knocking damaged homes, seeking to exploit vulnerable householders.

Insurers are also urging householders in south-east Queensland to identify and report disaster chasers to government authorities or police.

Hall said: “Disaster chasers emerge soon after a natural disaster and target householders who have been affected. They leave many families, elderly and disabled Australians much worse off, with large bills and homes that remain badly damaged.

“Insurers have received reports that disaster chasers are already active in the areas worst-affected by the recent hailstorms in south-east Queensland.”

Many disaster chasers offer urgent inspections or repairs for cash but leave the work either poorly done or not completed. They may not have a building licence, trade qualifications, professional indemnity insurance or an ABN. Some have been known to use standover tactics to demand money. They may falsely claim they have been sent by an insurer.

Some disaster chasers operate as small businesses, such as roofers. They pressure the householder to sign a contract on the spot and may promise that an insurance company will pay for all work. However, insurers will usually not pay for unnecessary or cosmetic repairs and will only pay for approved work that is covered by the policy. This often leaves the customer with an inflated bill that they are forced to pay, or a large fee or commission.

“Disaster chasers are a menace and are becoming bolder,” Hall said.

“Identifying disaster chasers and reporting them to the relevant authorities will help bring them to account. And if they threaten, harass or intimidate anyone, police should be notified immediately.”

Tips for identifying and dealing with a disaster chaser:

  • An insurer will not send a tradesperson or builder to your home without notifying you and providing you with details
  • Speak to your insurer before agreeing to any repairs or rebuilding work to make sure your insurer will cover it
  • A tradesperson or builder who is working for your insurer will not ask you for money
  • If in doubt, ask for identification such as a builder’s licence or driver’s licence, and ring your insurer to check
  • If you sign a contract with a disaster chaser, you have a statutory 10-day cooling-off period. Your insurer can help you end the relationship with the disaster chaser

To report an unlicensed builder or tradesperson, contact the Queensland Building and Construction Commission: 13 93 33

To report a doorknocker or scammer or for advice on statutory cooling-off period contact the Queensland Office of Fair Trading: 13 74 68

Under the Catastrophe declaration the ICA has:

  • Activated its disaster hotline – 1800 734 621 – to assist customers who have general inquiries about the claims process. This is not a claims lodgement service
  • Established an industry taskforce to address and identify issues that arise, and work directly with emergency services, agencies and the government