A Sebastopol man says his hot water bottle gets him through the bitterly cold Ballarat days.
“I often take to my bed with a hot water bottle when it gets too cold in the unit,” he said.
Russell Mangion says he has given up waiting for his faulty gas heater to be replaced after empty promises from the Department of Health and Human Services (DHHS).
Mr Mangion has been a Ballarat public housing tenant since March 2014 and says he wanted “to live out his days here” but is now unsure he can survive another winter without a heater.
His unit has a Vulcan gas wall heater, a model suspended from sale following the death of Melbourne’s Sonia Sofianopoulos, whose Vulcan gas heater lethally leaked carbon monoxide in her public housing unit.
Mr Mangion said he received the warning letter from DHHS on 13 April 2018, and was advised his heater would be inspected “within one to seven days”.
On 24 April with no word, he called again and was told “the massive response had been underestimated”. It took until May 9, after Mr Mangion had personally gone into the department, to have his heater inspected.
“It failed,” he said, “so I was given an interim heater, but my DHHS tenancy contract prohibits me from using an oil-burning heater so I don’t know what I am supposed to do.”
Mr Mangion said he’d been told there were an “estimated 600 suspect heaters” needing inspection in the Ballarat area” and “only three qualified inspectors”.
He was told that “of those already inspected, 90% had failed,” and it was “unknown” how long it would be until he could have his heater replaced.
“Given they said they allow at least half a day for every installation, it is going to take a long time,” he said.
DHHS spokesperson Ruth Ward said they had been “advised by Energy Safe Victoria (ESV) about issues with the Vulcan/Pyrox Heritage heater … (and) the safety of our tenants is the priority and we are working to disconnect and replace these heaters as soon as practically possible.”
Ms Ward said there were more than 6500 of the heaters in public housing and they had prioritised “those in smaller apartments, elderly tenants and those with health conditions.”
About 2500 heaters had been provided at no cost to tenants throughout Victoria, and the department was happy to provide additional heaters if required, she said.
Ms Ward said the department’s contractors “had engaged additional licensed and registered gas plumbers to cope with the demand” and there were “about 100 working across the state on this project.”
Mr Mangion said he had asked at the local DHHS office if there was a website or somewhere he could obtain updates or monitor the progress of the new heater installation, but was told there wasn’t.
“Public housing is looked down upon but, in my circumstances and for many others, it is very important to my survival.”
“A lot of these people live alone, have no one to support them and don’t have much else … they are reliant on the roof over their head and reliant on that dwelling being maintained and serviced in a professional manner.
“Instead we are made to feel insignificant and demoralised,” he said.