How we helped a family deal with unfair bills

How we helped a family deal with unfair bills

To avoid using a potentially dangerous gas heater in their public housing home, a family plugged in electric heaters. Their bills skyrocketed and by the time the gas heater was replaced, they were more than $4000 in debt.

Find out how we helped the family stay warm while taking the heat out of their financial problems.

Vera’s story

It has always been difficult for Vera (not her real name) to make herself understood. Both she and her husband have impaired speech. Often one of their children will interpret for them.

So when our lawyer began researching Vera’s slide into debt, she requested records using Freedom of Information laws.

She discovered that Vera’s complaints about the gas heater in her public housing home in western Victoria had been recorded at least five times since 2000.

The Office of Housing did organise maintenance of the heater a number of times but its poor operation continued to worry the family.

The turning point

In 2010 Vera’s husband had to be dragged outside the house and revived.

He was lying on the floor in front of the heater watching television and they thought he was asleep but they couldn’t wake him.

Vera decided they would have to rely on electric heating. The bills soon mounted up and changing providers did not help.

To reduce the cost, the family occasionally returned to the gas heater and Vera returned to her letter writing. She complained about bad smells, the pilot light going out and orange flames erupting from the front.

In September 2012, the heater failed the CO2 test and the Office of Housing had it replaced.

The tipping point

During the course of 2013, the family chipped away at the debt of more than $4000 they owed to the electricity company.

They received assistance from a Uniting Care financial counsellor and other community organisations, but they struggled to see how they would ever rid themselves of the burden.

Knowing that there are bills there made it very difficult for the family because they had to take money from elsewhere – and with kids it was tough to do that.

How we helped Vera

Eventually Vera was guided to Victoria Legal Aid. After extended negotiations, the Office of Housing agreed to give Vera a once-off payment to help her to pay off her debt to the electricity company.

How we can help you

If you have debt or financial issues you can get legal help to work out your options.

Call us on 1300 792 387, Monday to Friday from 8.45 am to 5.15 pm, for free information about the law and how we can help you. 

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