RESIDENTS initially ordered to pay £50,000 each for repairs to their homes have expressed relief after a judge said they will only need to stump up a fraction of that following a two-year battle.

Flat owners in all five of Oxford’s tower blocks were told by the city council they would need to hand over cash for work at the start of 2016, having being told they were contributing to works to replace electrics, lifts, windows and to spruce up the blocks with new cladding.

But the council has been told it was ‘unreasonable’ to demand the money – and the most residents will now pay is just under £4,000.

The costs had initially been classed as repairs, which fall to residents, but a judge has now said much of the work can be classed as improvements so the council is liable.

For people living in Evenlode Tower in Blackbird Leys, that will be just 7.5 per cent of the bill first proposed by the council and will not cover all the bills that were first judged necessary.

A group of leaseholders who own 54 flats across the five blocks set up the Oxford Tower Block Leaseholder Association (OTLA) two years ago and spent £70,000 on legal bills fighting the costs.

The city council said it had spent £228,000 on legal bills connected to the entire tower block renovation project. Of that, £128,000 was spent on additional legal fees after it took the case to Cambridge County Court last September. 

Jenny Webb, 69, one of the leaseholders who lives in Plowman Tower, said: "It's been a long time to have something like this hanging over you.

"It has caused a lot of people a lot of stress.

"Until recently we have all been convinced we will have to pay an awful lot and there's no way we could have afforded it. At my age no one would give me a loan or a mortgage, I have no idea what I would have done.

"It is such a relief, this is a much more reasonable amount, I am thrilled it is over."

OTLA’s chairman Darren Hazell said the council’s conduct had been ‘despicable’.

He said: “We are pleased with the outcome but it’s been two years of my life and others’ lives wondering where they’re going to get £50,000.

“I think the whole thing was completely wrong. I think it’s despicable to scare the life out of people who haven’t got that money.”

Mr Hazell, who owns a flat in Windrush Tower in Blackbird Leys, said: “I am a businessman and I have been in business for a long time. It didn’t really scare me much. For the old ladies who got a £50,000 bill – that is not right.”

He said three people had been so worried by the prospect of getting the money that they moved out of their home.

The city council confirmed it had bought back three flats in 2017 but was unable to say what the reason for the residents’ departures was.

Just one resident paid the entirety of the money demanded for the work. The local authority is now looking to refund the bulk of it.

Residents in Hockmore Tower in Temple Cowley were initially told they would have to pay £53,581.11 but will now need to pay £3,994.97. In Plowman Tower, Northway, charges were pencilled in as £48,766.75 but are now just £2,640.85.

In Evenlode Tower, Blackbird Leys, costs in 2016 were £50,698.98 but are now £3,690.60, and down the road at Windrush Tower costs were anticipated to be £50,551. They are now £3,857.21 for total costs there.

At Foresters in Wood Farm, costs were going to be £49,116.62. They are now £2,642.77.

In October, regional judge Bruce Edgington told the council: “With long leases, the landlord has to be reasonable and some might say that undertaking a huge amount of work to a property all at the same time – when such works could and should be planned over a period of time – and then demanding nearly £50,000 from each leaseholder, could be said to be unreasonable in itself.

“Very few people would have instant availability to such resources, although it is the fact that financial arrangements have been put in hand to help long leaseholders pay over a longer period. However, that will not stop them worrying about such a large debt.”

Stephen Clarke, the council's head of housing and property services, said: “The Tribunal’s determination and subsequent agreements between the Council and OTLA have provided much needed certainty to leaseholders on how much they can expect to pay as their contribution to the repairs.

“As we had made budget provision for the full costs of the tower block improvement project from our Housing Revenue Account and had not made any budget income assumptions for contributions from leaseholders, there are no significant financial implications from this determination."