THE WHITFIELDS, Pat and James, bought their council flat in Leyton, east London, five years ago for just over pounds 16,000. 'The service charge started off at pounds 250 a year. The next year it rose to about pounds 600,' Mrs Whitfield said, adding that she did not get any service for the money she had to pay.
'Everything is broken down and nothing is ever done,' she said.
Arrears on the couple's service charge built up to just over pounds 1,150. When it reached that amount, the mortgage provider paid the outstanding debt and added it to the original loan. The Whitfields pay extra interest payments on the mortgage.
But the council is now suing the Whitfields for a further pounds 153. They are contesting this claim and fighting for the restoration of the pounds 1,150. Theirs is one of the test cases.
CASE STUDY No 2
SHEILA HAWKINS bought her two-bedroom flat in east London with her husband 10 years ago for pounds 13,000, with a 50 per cent discount. She said she started off on a relatively low service charge, which then began to escalate.
Mrs Hawkins withheld the service charge because of problems with refurbishments. 'My flat was flooded several times because of the work that was being carried out by the council,' she said.
Mrs Hawkins has reached an out-of-court settlement with Waltham Forest Council for the pounds 250 nuisance costs caused by the extensive refurbishment of the building.
The council agreed to waive unpaid service charges of pounds 1,400, then mistakenly sent her a bill for some pounds 3,000 because they had not taken into account the settlement. After conceding its mistake, the council is to meet Mrs Hawkins to talk about an outstanding amount of about pounds 1,400.
'The experience has been horrific,' Mrs Hawkins said.
CASE STUDY No 3
RENE TURNHAM, a widow and old-age pensioner, bought her council flat in Fulham for pounds 13,000 just over 10 years ago and started off paying pounds 42 a month. The council then decided that her block - a mix of tenants and right-to-buy purchasers - needed major repairs including new windows and a roof.
Mrs Turnham has just received a final demand for what she owes - pounds 7,000. If she doesn't pay the outstanding amount, the council could start proceedings against her.
She said: 'We had a council property survey done when we bought the flat. My husband didn't feel we needed anything more.' The National Federation of Council Leaseholders is to plead with the Secretary of State on her behalf to challenge the service charge.
Hammersmith & Fulham Council said it had pounds 1.5m in outstanding service charges but was not actively pursuing tenants for the money pending the outcome of a court case being brought against another council concerning the responsibility for the cost of replacement windows in a council block. It added that all right-to-buy tenants would have been made aware of their responsibilities when they bought their homes.
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