Hidden cost of exercising the right to buy: The dream of ownership becomes a nightmare for a former council tenant faced with a huge service charge. Caroline Merrell reports

The Government's right-to-buy initiative seemed to give council tenants a cheap way of buying into an apparently unstoppable housing boom.

However, more than 10 years after the event, the dream of home ownership has turned sour for some. In one case, a former tenant had her home repossessed by Abbey National after arrears were increased spectacularly by a pounds 24,000 service charge levied by the council.

Mair Slattery bought her three-bedroom flat with her husband at a discount for pounds 18,000 in 1983. The property was one of 16 flats in a block in north London. About half the tenants decided to buy their properties. Abbey National provided the original loan for the Slatterys' flat.

Five years later Mrs Slattery decided to take out a further loan from Abbey National of pounds 12,000 for improvements that included replacing the windows and adding a bathroom, to bring the mortgage to pounds 30,000. The flat was then valued at pounds 60,000.

In 1990 arrears began to build up on the property. By March 1993 they had mounted to pounds 1,500. Mrs Slattery, a health authority worker, said: 'With the poll tax, I was finding it difficult to pay the mortgage.'

The problem was then made worse by Harrow Council, which added a service charge on the flat of pounds 24,000. The charge helped pay for a new roof and fire escape for the block. It also helped pay for new windows - in Mrs Slattery's case this involved ripping out windows she had borrowed money to install, because the council also wanted to put new insulation into the block. The tenants who had not bought their properties did not have to pay the service charge.

The Abbey National view is that in situations of this kind, when the borrower cannot pay a service charge, the lender pays it then adds it to the arrears on the property. An Abbey National official said: 'If we didn't do this we would have no security for our loan.' If the lender did not pay the service charge, then the council would gain possession of the lease.

Mrs Slattery said that she could not believe the size of the charge. 'The whole thing had started to turn into some sort of nightmare.'

Abbey National began court proceedings against Mrs Slattery for repossession in May last year. Jacqueline Bunce- Linsell, her solicitor, managed to stave off repossession by paying pounds 10,000 from money Mrs Slattery had inherited. Abbey National then reorganised Mrs Slattery's repayments so that she could repay the arrears at pounds 130 a month as well as the outstanding loan. Her difficulty was exacerbated because the addition of a service charge on her loan meant that it was no longer eligible for tax relief.

Again she began to run into difficulty, and last week Abbey National reinvoked the repossession order and locked her out. That decision was only reversed after Mrs Slattery's brother-in-law paid off the arrears through his Abbey National deposit account last week.

Derek Wiseman, a councillor with Harrow Council, said that Mrs Slattery had been the worst-hit of those paying the service charge. He said: 'Different people in the block paid different maintenance charges according to when they bought the property.' He said that the problems with the property had been brought up at a council meeting.

The council said Mrs Slattery had exercised her legal right to buy; it was incumbent on the buyer to have a survey carried out. The council was satisfied that it had acted fairly and within the law.

(Photograph omitted)

News
peopleHowards' Way actress, and former mistress of Jeffrey Archer, was 60
Sport
Romelu Lukaku puts pen to paper
sport
News
Robyn Lawley
people
Arts and Entertainment
Unhappy days: Resistance spy turned Nobel prize winner Samuel Beckett
books
PROMOTED VIDEO
News
people
Life and Style
Troy Baker and Ashley Johnson voice the show’s heroes
gamingOnce stilted and melodramatic, Hollywood is giving acting in video games a makeover
News
i100
Life and Style
Phones will be able to monitor your health, from blood pressure to heart rate, and even book a doctor’s appointment for you
techCould our smartphones soon be diagnosing diseases via Health Kit and Google Fit?
News
people
Extras
indybest
Travel
Ryan taming: the Celtic Tiger carrier has been trying to improve its image
travelRyanair has turned on the 'charm offensive' but can we learn to love the cut-price carrier again?
News
ebookA unique anthology of reporting and analysis of a crucial period of history
Sport
Usain Bolt confirms he will run in both the heats and the finals of the men's relay at the Commonwealth Games
commonwealth games
Life and Style
Slim pickings: Spanx premium denim collection
fashionBillionaire founder of Spanx launches range of jeans that offers 'thigh-trimming construction'
News
Sabina Altynbekova has said she wants to be famous for playing volleyball, not her looks
people
News
i100
Life and Style
tech'World's first man-made leaves' could use photosynthesis to help astronauts breathe
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Independent Dating
and  

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

iJobs Job Widget
iJobs Money & Business

Senior Investment Accounting Change Manager

£600 - £700 per day + competitive: Orgtel: Senior Investment Accounting Change...

BA/PM,EMIR/Dodd-Frank,London,£450-650P/D

£450 - £650 per day + competitive: Orgtel: My client, a leading bank, is curre...

Senior Analyst - ALM Data - Banking - Halifax

£350 - £400 per day + competitive: Orgtel: Senior Analyst, ALM Data, Halifax, ...

Java developer - Banking - London - Up to £600/day

£500 - £600 per day: Orgtel: Java developer - Banking - London - Up to £600/d...

Day In a Page

Save the tiger: The day America’s love of backyard tigers led to a horrific bloodbath

The day America’s love of backyard tigers led to a horrific bloodbath

With only six per cent of the US population of these amazing big cats held in zoos, the Zanesville incident in 2011 was inevitable
Samuel Beckett's biographer reveals secrets of the writer's time as a French Resistance spy

How Samuel Beckett became a French Resistance spy

As this year's Samuel Beckett festival opens in Enniskillen, James Knowlson, recalls how the Irish writer risked his life for liberty and narrowly escaped capture by the Gestapo
We will remember them: relatives still honour those who fought in the Great War

We will remember them

Relatives still honour those who fought in the Great War
Star Wars Episode VII is being shot on film - and now Kodak is launching a last-ditch bid to keep celluloid alive

Kodak's last-ditch bid to keep celluloid alive

Director J J Abrams and a few digital refuseniks shoot movies on film. Simon Usborne wonders what the fuss is about
Once stilted and melodramatic, Hollywood is giving acting in video games a makeover

Acting in video games gets a makeover

David Crookes meets two of the genre's most popular voices
Could our smartphones soon be diagnosing diseases via Health Kit and Google Fit?

Could smartphones soon be diagnosing diseases?

Health Kit and Google Fit have been described as "the beginning of a health revolution"
Ryanair has turned on the 'charm offensive' but can we learn to love the cut-price carrier again?

Can we learn to love Ryanair again?

Four recent travellers give their verdicts on the carrier's improved customer service
Billionaire founder of Spanx launches range of jeans that offers

Spanx launches range of jeans

The jeans come in two styles, multiple cuts and three washes and will go on sale in the UK in October
10 best over-ear headphones

Aural pleasure: 10 best over-ear headphones

Listen to your favourite tracks with this selection, offering everything from lambskin earmuffs to stainless steel
Commonwealth Games 2014: David Millar ready to serve up gold for his beloved Scotland in the end

Commonwealth Games

David Millar ready to serve up gold for his beloved Scotland in the end
UCI Mountain Bike World Cup 2014: Downhill all the way to the top for the Atherton siblings

UCI Mountain Bike World Cup

Downhill all the way to the top for the Atherton siblings
Save the tiger: The animals bred for bones on China’s tiger farms

The animals bred for bones on China’s tiger farms

The big cats kept in captivity to perform for paying audiences and then, when dead, their bodies used to fortify wine
A former custard factory, a Midlands bog and a Leeds cemetery all included in top 50 hidden spots in the UK

A former custard factory, a Midlands bog and a Leeds cemetery

Introducing the top 50 hidden spots in Britain
Ebola epidemic: Plagued by fear

Ebola epidemic: Plagued by fear

How a disease that has claimed fewer than 2,000 victims in its history has earned a place in the darkest corner of the public's imagination
Chris Pratt: From 'Parks and Recreation' to 'Guardians of the Galaxy'

From 'Parks and Recreation' to 'Guardians of the Galaxy'

He was homeless in Hawaii when he got his big break. Now the comic actor Chris Pratt is Hollywood's new favourite action star