Service fees spell ruin: Right-to-buy former council tenants are to march over huge charges they face

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The Independent Online
THOUSANDS of former council tenants are to march on Parliament in protest over massive service charges on property they bought under the right-to- buy scheme. The march is being co- ordinated by the National Federation of Council Leaseholders. The federation has thousands of cases of former council house tenants who are currently facing financial ruin on account of huge service charges that they are unable to pay.

Many council house tenants took advantage of the right-to- buy initiative in the early 1980s when vast numbers of council houses and flats were sold off at a discount.

The problems mainly affect former council tenants who live in blocks of flats. These tenants pay the council for the upkeep of the block through an annual service charge. For many of them the charge has been escalating - far beyond the rate of inflation, and far beyond their means.

Many right-to-buy tenants are also facing one-off bills from the councils for work carried out on their blocks. If the work is extensive, perhaps a new roof or windows, the bill can run to tens of thousands of pounds.

In one case highlighted by the Independent, the Abbey National repossessed the home of a right-to-buy borrower whose mortgage arrears were increased out of all proportion by a service charge of pounds 20,000. The Abbey paid the charge and added it to the outstanding loan. The borrower was able to move back into the property after a relative stepped in to pay off the arrears.

Many of the disputes centre on whether the work being carried out is part of routine maintenance - which would be the tenants' responsibility - or work to correct structural defects, which would be the council's responsibility.

A solicitor acting for the Waltham Forest Leaseholders' Association, a member of the national federation, is to bring four test cases to court next month in an effort to have service charges reduced.

Lesser, a London-based firm of solicitors, is challenging the service charges on their size and legality, and questioning whether a service is actually being provided.

John Trim of the Waltham Forest Leaseholders' Association said: 'We started the campaign a few years ago and now have over a thousand members. We have challenged the service charge on behalf of many people.'

The march is planned for Thursday.

The National Federation of Council Leaseholders is on 071- 736 0030.