We moved in to our new flat earlier this year and upon completion paid the appropriate apportionment of the service charge. It has just turned out that the previous leaseholder had an outstanding balance of around £250. Since we were first time buyers, we had no idea that we should be checking it, besides I would have thought that solicitors normally take care of these things... One way or another. it looks like this debt has now been passed onto us. Could someone advise if there is any chance for me to recover that money somehow?
Go back to the solicitor who acted for you in the purchase of the flat and ask them if a retention was held pending end of year accounts. If there was a retention, you should be able to use this to pay the shortfall. If there is no shortfall, then the retention would normally be returned to the seller once the final accounts have been produced.
If no retention was held, you may have difficulties trying to claim the money back from the sellers. Again, you would need to contact your solicitor in order that they can revert to the seller's solicitor but it is notoriously difficult because the seller's solicitor would need to contact the seller, who may just ignore letters/phone calls.
This is exactly why retentions are normally held in a leasehold transaction, but sometimes a seller will refuse to agree to an allowance to cover a possible shortfall and a buyer may be so desperate to move in that they agree to exchange without the retention being in place. In this situation, you would struggle to reclaim the money without court proceedings.
This will almost certainly be part of your solicitors work. There will be a clause in your contract unless your solicitor is an idiot, which I doubt as it's a standard clause where it is leased flat. Do not worry,
The solicitor should have checked with freeholder/management company that all was up to date. Sometimes the lease requires written permission from fh for the sale to proceed anyway, so check your legal pack for any correspondence.