Australians have made more than $4 billion worth of natural disaster related insurance claims since September, with about half lodged because of bushfires.

Insurance Council of Australia chief Rob Whelan has told a parliamentary committee hearing most of the 242,000 claims were for damage, destruction of family homes, cars and belongings.

“This was the worst natural disaster season on record,” he said on Tuesday.

Insurers have supplied $1.4 billion in repairs, rebuilds, new contents, cash settlements and financial support in bushfire-hit areas.

Images of thousands of people fleeing flames and trapped on the shores of Mallacoota were spread worldwide at the start of the year.

Mr Whelan says an air force flight was organised so insurers and damage assessors could access the cut-off town.

“They borrowed cars from locals, looked at more than 100 homes and businesses, and provided one-on-one guidance to their customers,” he said.

While insurers are still able to provider services in the midst of the coronavirus pandemic, having staff working from home and call centres closed has increased response times.

About 3000 claims regarding loss of rental income are currently being assessed.

The Insurance Council’s head of risk and operations Karl Sullivan said pursuing tenants for unpaid rent was a matter for individual insurers.