Poll reveals not enough tenants in Scotland understand deposit protection

Tenants in the private rented sector are largely unaware of how lettings deposit money is protected, according to the biggest ever survey of its kind.

The poll of 4,500 tenants by SafeDeposits Scotland found that a surprising number of Scottish tenants don’t know their rights when it comes to claiming back their deposits and that they could be losing out on money.

Over a quarter of respondents, some 26.8%, didn’t know until receiving a welcome email from SafeDeposits Scotland, that by law, their tenancy deposit had to be protected in a Government backed scheme.

Some 36.4% of tenants did not know how to claim back deposits after moving out of privately rented accommodation, a 2.9% decrease on responses to the 2017 survey when it was 38.6%.

Meanwhile, 55.8% of respondents to the survey said they weren’t aware that if they wanted to challenge a landlord’s deductions from their deposit that they could use the free adjudication service.

However, the poll did find that 92.8% of respondents remembered having received key information on their deposit including official confirmation of their deposit being registered.

The Scottish Household Survey, published by the Scottish Government in September 2018, reported that there are roughly 280,000 households in the private rented sector. The average deposit protected by SafeDeposits Scotland is £723.

While the majority of tenancies end in agreement between tenants and landlords regarding deductions from deposits, there are some cases where the sum is disputed. In these cases tenants are entitled, under Scots law, to use the free, impartial adjudication service offered by tenancy deposit schemes.

‘Scottish law on tenancy deposits is particularly robust and makes it a legal requirement for landlords to protect their tenants’ deposits. It’s also in the legislation that, if things don’t run smoothly, there’s a process to resolve disputes,’ said Victoria Smith, chief operating officer at SafeDeposits Scotland.

‘Our survey is the biggest one of its kind ever done in Scotland since tenancy deposit legislation was implemented in 2012 and the figures show that a considerable number of tenants don’t know what’s in place to make sure that not only is their money protected but there’s recourse if there are any problems,’ she explained.

‘That’s why we’re making a concerted effort to educate tenants, as well as landlords and letting agents, across the country about their rights and responsibilities in terms of tenancy deposit protection,’ she pointed out.

‘Tenants who don’t know what’s in place to make sure their deposit money is protected could be left out of pocket by landlords or agents who don’t comply with the legislation, or who make unsubstantiated claims. The majority of landlords abide by the law but there is a small group who disregard their legal responsibilities,’ she added.

She also pointed out that if a landlord or agent fails to protect a tenant’s deposit within 30 days of the lease starting, they could be liable for up to three times the deposit value in compensation. The recently introduced First Tier Tribunal, which makes decisions on such cases, has already adjudicated on 40 cases and reprimanded landlords.

SafeDeposits Scotland holds deposits and provides a free and impartial adjudication service should there be disagreement about deductions at the end of the tenancy. While deposit protection is a legal requirement for agents and landlords, it is also in their interest to use them to resolve issues through adjudication.