A LURGAN woman has told how she had to cuddle up for warmth with her two young daughters after their house was left without heat for a week.
Joanne Gillespie has had several run-ins with the Housing Executive over issues relating to home heating at her house in Elmwood Terrace in the past six months.
Most recently, the 32-year-old single mother who is on benefits, was told to buy more oil even though she’d already got £60 worth in her tank.
Joanne, who is chair of Shankill and Wakehurst Community Action Group, said: “I am a single parent of two young girls and I’m on benefits and I don’t have any savings so I don’t have the money to put a large amount of oil in so I have always put in small amounts and it has worked.
“When the heat ran out three weeks ago I presumed we were out of oil so I contacted a local delivery firm who advised that the minimum delivery was 70 litres at a cost of £60. I managed to scrape together this amount and got oil.
“My oil still would not come on so I contacted the NIHE maintenance department and they arranged for a contractor to call. When he called he checked the oil levels in the tank and said that due to the size of the tank the amount put in didn’t make enough of a difference to the level in the tank to provide the pressure needed for the oil to come on.
“£60 of oil may not ‘make enough of a difference’ to the levels in my tank but it can be the difference between me being able to feed my children and not.”
Having borrowed money to pay for another 200 litres, the problem wasn’t solved and Joanne and her two daughters Maggie and Eve, aged four and six, had to gather for warmth in the living room.
Although the problem has since been fixed, she said the saga with the oil tank put an incredible strain on the household.
Joanne, who has been living in Elmwood Terrace for around six years, described what happened when she was without heat.
“Myself and the two girls had to sleep together in the living room for a week,” she said.
“It was the only room I could get any heat into. I had to use electric heaters which will no doubt have a huge effect on my electricity bill but it was far too cold not to. We all had to wrap them in two quilts plus a fleece blanket.
“When you went into the girls’ rooms you could have seen your breath they were that cold. One of the girls ended up with a chill in her kidneys.”
Joanne said she is also waiting to hear back from the Housing Executive about a claim she submitted regarding oil lost due to a leak caused by a new part being installed incorrectly last November.
“I feel like the Housing Executive are brushing me off and it isn’t good enough,” she commented.
“The simple fact is the oil tanks in this low income area are not suitable for people who can only afford to put in small amounts of oil at a time.”
A spokesperson for the Housing Executive said: “The Housing Executive has received two reports of problems with the oil heating system at this property - one in November 2012 and one in February 2013.
“The Housing Executive would like to apologise for the length of time it has taken to resolve these issues. The tenant of the property has raised issues through our public liability insurance and this is currently being investigated.”