Bushfire royal commission: Australian Red Cross hit with fraudulent donation claims

The Australian Red Cross says it was hit with hundreds of fraudulent claims for bushfire aid. Picture: Sitthixay Ditthavong
The Australian Red Cross says it was hit with hundreds of fraudulent claims for bushfire aid. Picture: Sitthixay Ditthavong

The Australian Red Cross has revealed it was hit with hundreds of fraudulent claims for bushfire assistance, after the charity was accused of being too slow to get money to communities in need.

The Red Cross has distributed $83 million of a total $216 million donated, the Royal Commission into National Natural Disaster Management heard on Tuesday.

Most of the money has gone to the four states hit hardest during the summer bushfires, with $64 million distributed in NSW, just under $11 million in Victoria $6.5 million in South Australia and $1.5 million in Queensland.

But the charity was on Monday criticised by a bushfire survivor, who was initially knocked back for aid because she did not have a utility bill.

Australian Red Cross director Noel Clement said the main challenge for the charity had been identifying people in need without a single or shared list of those impacted.

"Probably one of the ... most significant challenges for us has been lack of access to good information to be able to verify that the people we are paying are those who have been impacted and particularly around things like destruction of property, and trying to minimise the impact on people through that verification process," Mr Clement said.

Mr Clement said the organisation had been besieged with "very significant cyber activity from the outset", with around 900 "botched applications" received.

While some fraudulent applications had been passed onto police, Mr Clement said the priority had been to get through the mountain of claims.

"We intend to go back through more of those applications to determine if more of them should be referred," Mr Clement said.

Mr Clement said aid organisations needed access to a central register of those affected by bushfires to be able to contact people and verify their losses.

"One of the opportunities I guess we would highlight is the register fund ..... that registers people who have been evacuated. It is often the largest source of data on who's been impacted in a community that could be added to to determine what were those impacts," Mr Clement said.

The commission continues on Wednesday.

This story Charity hit with fraudulent bushfire donation claims first appeared on The Canberra Times.