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By Kath Gannaway

The experience of a Healesville family left without heating and electrical appliances for almost a week has raised questions about the process for restitution following a power outage.

Michelle Smith and her family were among more than 60 households affected by a severe power surge from an Ausnet supply on Saturday, 30 June.

Ms Smith said while Ausnet visited soon after to assess whether power could safely be restored, the response when she phoned to see about replacing damaged electrical applicances, including heating, was ‘unhelpful’.

“Fix everything and make a claim” was their response, but we cannot afford to replace half our large appliances, plus all our heating, light and solar power,” Ms Smith told the Mail.

“On Saturday night they said there was nothing they could do until Monday when we could make a claim, but with our youngest one quite sick, and no heating, it wasn’t helpful.

She said with five young children and not heating on the Sunday, they simply left the house, but were left with the same dilemma as the week went on.

“We were told we would have to buy new appliances and get refunded, that they don’t refund down lights, and that appliances more than 12 months old would not be replaced on a new for old basis.

“We pay our bills so we just don’t have any savings to go out and buy appliances,” Ms Smith said.

Ausnet told the Mail all claim are individually assessed.

“We endeavour to resolve all claims received as a priority and to date we have received four claims, with one already assessed and our offer accepted by our customer,” a spokesperson said on Friday.

She said all claims must be assessed in accordance with standards set out by the Essential Services Commission, which means having appliances assessed by a qualified person before a claim can be made.

“While some experts will conduct an assessment and quote free of charge, our claims process seeks to reimburse the reasonable cost to assess an item, including call out fees in the event that they are charged.”

The relevant guideline, applicable across the industry, the spokesperson said, is

Guideline No 11: Electricity Industry – Voltage Variation Compensation, issued by the Essential Services Commission.

Eildon MP, Cindy McLeish spoke on Thursday (5 June) with Ms Smith and other property owners affected by the power surge and said the general response had been that Ausnet’s response had been good.

“One person said they had put in a claim and because it had been expedited (by Ausnet) they paid within half an hour,” Ms McLeish said.

“What people lost was different; one person lost a split system air conditioner but others said they lost a bunch of appliances.

“Ausnet had committed to expediting any claims and would reimburse as soon as possible,” Ms McLeish said.

As to whether it was a fair thing that people would need to make up the difference in the cost of replacing appliances that were more than 12 months old, and the compensation offered, Ms McLeish said it was a fine line balancing the circumstances of householders and the responsibility of electrical companies.

Ms Smith said she was grateful that Ms Mcleish had got Ausnet on board to sort the issues out.

Ultimately, she said the expectation that ‘real life people’ would have money available to replace necessary items such as heating and cooking facilities did not work for a lot of people – including her family.

“We just don’t have savings to deal with such a random disaster,” she said.

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