£73,000 FLATS FELL BELOW £20,000

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By the time that Janet Limb complained to the District Auditor about Wandsworth's "fraudulent" action in the sale of her studio flat, it was worth a fraction of the amount that she had paid for it.

She was only the tip of the iceberg of about 400 families who bought the properties in Battersea as the London property boom reached its zenith in late 1989 and 1990.

Under Wandsworth's Priority Group Sales Scheme, the local authority sold the empty flats in the Doddington estate's 10- and 12-storey blocks at knock-down prices to people who lived or worked in the borough.

But as property prices began to tumble, the flats on the estate fell even faster, because of huge bills for the upkeep of the blocks coming to the end of their 25-year lifespan. Labour accused the flagship Tory authority of using the scheme across the borough to strengthen its political position by encouraging home ownership.

The homeowners on Doddington, where many now have outstanding bills for maintenance of up to £3,500, complain the authority sold the flats knowing it could not afford the maintenance bills. "What they did was bordering on fraud," Maggie Kennedy, chair of the Doddington Leaseholders Group, said. "They knew exactly what they were doing, pushing these flats, because they were aware they could not afford their upkeep."

Flats valued at £73,000 are now worth less than £20,000 at auction, while studios have fallen from £52,000 to as little as£5,000. "This is everyone's worst nightmare," Ms Kennedy said. "The council should be forced to provide a swap scheme so that we can get out of this."