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Black Saturday fire victims upset at payout delay and lack of communication from lawyers -

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ELIZABETH JACKSON: Victims of Victoria's Black Saturday fires, which killed 173 people seven years ago, have now been told their compensation payouts have been delayed.

In Australia's largest-ever class action settlement, $494 million was awarded to the victims of the Kilmore East fire and, in a separate case, $300 million was awarded to people affected by the Murrindindi-Marysville fire.

Victims say they haven't received an explanation for the delay, which has caused significant financial and psychological stress.

From Melbourne, here's Simon Lauder:

SIMON LAUDER: Vicki Ruhr lives in Kinglake. Her home was destroyed by the fire that razed the town on Black Saturday. She was also injured that day and that forced her to quit her nursing career.

VICKI RUHR: Since February 2009 I haven't had any earnings and my earning capacity is zero.

SIMON LAUDER: After a successful class action by Maurice Blackburn lawyers, she was expecting a payout by the middle of this year.

But some members of the class action have received a letter indicating the money won't come through until late this year, or even early next year.

VICKI RUHR: Look, this is all going to be completed. We can all put all of that process behind us and we can start to have a proper look at where we want to go from here because, you know, we have a few options.

And we can also start to keep a few wolves from the door, because it's becoming, you know, very difficult on and on to address a lot of our outstanding debts.

SIMON LAUDER: And how do you feel about it now?

VICKI RUHR: Oh, very... very, very distressed about the fact that now that we have to revisit it all over again, and we have to put in place whatever contingency we can - whatever's possible to enable us to keep going on an indefinite type of level.

SIMON LAUDER: Vicki Ruhr didn't get a letter. She says she and many others are trying to find out more.

VICKI RUHR: We're just finding out bit by bit or via Facebook, via telephone calls or these letters that are beginning to be issued.

SIMON LAUDER: She worries about the psychological impact of the delay.

VICKI RUHR: We're all so tired. We're all exhausted.

SIMON LAUDER: Strathewen resident Dennis Spooner is also upset by the delay. He was hoping to retire soon.

DENNIS SPOONER: The bit of life that's left in me, I want to be able to enjoy it.

What the fire did to me, it certainly teaches people a lesson that you can't take life for granted. I was talking to my wife and son just minutes - literally, just minutes before they perished.

SIMON LAUDER: And what effect do you fear it will have on the community?

DENNIS SPOONER: Well, I can't speak for them. But my gut feeling is that I know some people are in a lot worse position than what we are.

And just the mood of the people: this is going to be another kick in the guts. And quite frankly- I said to Maurice Blackburn: I said, "You could possibly expect a few more suicides over this" because people have just been hanging out for it.

SIMON LAUDER: Maurice Blackburn would not provide any comment on tape. But in a written statement a spokesman blames the unprecedented size and complexity of the settlement for the delay and says the firm has been doing everything it can to ensure people get a just outcome as quickly as possible.

ELIZABETH JACKSON: Simon Lauder reporting.