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£24k council heating bill is costing us our homes

Boiling point: Michelle Baharier PICTURE: SWNS

A FLAT owner facing a £24,000 bill in a row with the council over central heating has said she faces losing her home.

Artist Michelle Baharier is locked in a legal battle with Southwark Council after it allegedly installed the communal system in her block of flats against the wishes of residents.

The 55-year-old said: ‘Most leaseholders aren’t wealthy and lots of people have already lost their homes — 50 per cent have sold up because they can’t afford the bill.

‘Some are renting their flats to pay for it. It’s put a lot of people into poverty. We are being demoralised. I’ve had to seek psychiatric support this past three years. I’ve had trauma counselling, it’s been really frightening.’

She became a leaseholder ten years ago after exercising her right to buy her two-bed flat in Camberwell, south London, from the council which retains the freehold and can charge for repairs.

Ms Baharier said Southwark reversed a decision to install individual heating in the flats in 2012 and presented leaseholders with a bill for £24,486.

Earlier this year, a tribunal agreed the work was an enhancement and not a repair. The council is now challenging the decision in the ‘public interest’.

Ms Baharier said: ‘They’ve hired a top barrister who will cost the public tens of thousands of pounds. On top of that, we were told this heating was going to last for 25 years yet it breaks down every month in more than one of the flats.’

She said problems included flooding, soaring temperatures in the summer, no control over when the system is on and a £1,000 heating bill this year.

Coun Stephanie Cryan said it was ‘frustrating’ when the local authority had to charge for large repairs. But she added: ‘The work has to happen and payment of service charges and major works bills is a condition of the lease for those who have taken up Right to Buy, or bought council homes privately.’