HOMEOWNERS in one of Edinburgh’s most deprived communities who cannot afford shared repair bills are being offered the change to sell their homes back to the council as part of a groundbreaking pilot.

Edinburgh City Council is attempting to tackle the legacy of the controversial Right to Buy policy, which ended in Scotland in 2015.

Under the scheme, introduced by Margaret Thatcher, where council tenants could purchase their homes, many at low prices, some later realised they were not financially able to pay their share of repairs they have a legal duty to contribute to.

Now, as a last resort, former council tenants who took advantage of Right to Buy will be given the opportunity to sell their homes back to the council and let them back to give up the responsibility of repairs without being forced to move home.

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The council’s SNP housing, homelessness and fair work convener, Kate Campbell, said the authority is “putting as much help in place as we can”.

She added: “There may be people who purchased under Right to Buy because it seemed for them the right thing to do but actually hadn’t thought about the long-term investment that homes need and might be overwhelmed by that.

“If that is the case, they can have the option of going back to a council tenant if that is more suitable. We are not anticipating huge take-up on that but we will see what happens.”

Despite reports owners may face sharp bills, Ms Campbell has insisted that “our intentions are wholly good”.

She added: “We just want people’s homes to be better.

“That does mean we have to work with owners, landlords and they do have obligations as owners within a building.”

Due to the Right to Buy scheme, 4,500 blocks of flats in Edinburgh are mixed tenure with many in a state of disrepair.

In the Wester Hailes pilot area, household income levels are 37 per cent lower than the Edinburgh average while the price of a two-bedroom flat is 50% lower than the city average.

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As well as the last resort of the buy-back scheme, owner occupiers will have the option of an extended payback period of 10 years – while owners will be helped by council officials to secure government grants to cover some of the work.

The council said roofs on the blocks in the pilot area have not been replaced since the buildings were constructed in the 1960s and have reached the end of their lifespan – while external wall insulation will be installed and rainwater pipes and gutters and common windows and doors will be repaired.

Officials are hoping to carry out vital repairs and energy efficiency upgrades to around 1,400 homes in mixed tenure blocks in the Wester Hailes area of the city, 1,000 of which are council properties.

The project has an estimated price tag of around £30 million combined from both the authority and private owners.

Council bosses will take the lead on repairs in mixed blocks and invoice landlords and owner occupiers for their share of the works once they have been completed.

Council tenants living in the blocks have already contributed to the repair costs though rent revenue collected by the authority – but landlords and owner-occupiers could face hefty bills once the work is complete – assuming a majority in the block vote in favour of the repairs being carried out.

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The council will take on the financial risk by paying for the repairs upfront but those who don't pay their share could end up with debt collection action and face the prospect of an inhibition order which can prevent the owner from remortgaging or taking out a loan on a property.

Reports have suggested that homeowners could be hit with bills of up to £40,000. Council officials have killed the scaremongering, but official assumptions put average costs at around £19,000.

Jackie Timmons, who is overseeing the council project, said: "All owners, including the council, have a joint legal obligation with other owners in the stair to repair and maintain the common parts of these properties.

"I think the Scottish Government have accepted that there are gaps in the legislation to compel owners to repair and maintain the common part of buildings. We know there is an issue here.

"We’re not aware of any other local authority doing this amount of work on this scale to mixed tenure properties using this framework."

She added: "There's been emergency incidents in recent years - falling masonry. These incidents pose a risk to public safety and have been made safe with just temporary repairs being carried out."