Homeowners of ex-council flats across London are facing thousands of pounds in extra service-charge bills due to a government drive to upgrade local authority housing.
Private leaseholders who bought their flats under Right to Buy or who have bought ex-council flats on the open market are having to foot the bill for major improvements, while renting tenants in the same block pay nothing.
Repairs and upgrades, such as new roofs, double glazing, new entry systems, landscaping and lighting improvements are being rushed through under the Decent Homes initiative.
'It is terrifying for people who bought ex-local authority flats to be faced suddenly with a bill for £50,000'
The Government is pumping £19 billion into the programme but that money is allocated only for council renters. This means that their private leaseholder neighbours must pay a share of the cost through their service-charge bills.
In one recent case, leaseholders in a high-rise block, Kennet House in St John’s Wood, were billed £3,728 a flat to help fund the replacement of the original Sixties steel windows with modern double glazing.
The costs can run even higher. Barrister Mark Loveday, a specialist in leasehold disputes, said that 18 London boroughs had issued, or expect to issue, service-charge demands of more than £20,000 for each leaseholder, to be spread over monthly instalments.
At least six of those expect some bills to exceed £50,000. One local authority expects to charge 2,200 leaseholders between £15,000 and £20,000 each.
“It is terrifying for people who bought ex-local authority flats to be faced suddenly with a bill of £50,000,” Mr Loveday said. “It doesn’t encourage more people of modest incomes to exercise their right to buy.”
More than 280,000 council homes in London have been sold under Right to Buy, most of them flats. Some residents faced with the unexpected extra charges are turning to the courts to try to have their bills overturned.
The problem is getting worse as councils rush to meet the Government’s 2010 target for bringing council housing up to reasonable standards. “There has been some slippage because local authorities have been having trouble coping with the volume of work but it is gathering momentum now,” Mr Loveday added.