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028 9024 5640: Housing & Debt Helpline for Northern Ireland

Number of disputes over tenancy deposits declines

TDS website screengrab

The most recent briefing from the Tenancy Deposit Scheme Northern Ireland (TDS NI) shows that there has been a decline in the number of disputes over tenancy deposits in Northern Ireland, with disputes over deposits representing around 1% of deposits held. However, the figures given relate the number of disputes in 2018 (460) to the total number of deposits held (43,211), rather than to the total number of deposits returned. The number of days taken to resolve disputes (calculated from when the adjudicator has received all relevant paperwork) has also reduced significantly, from 10 days in 2016-17 to 4 days in 2017-18 although no reason is given for this reduction in time taken to resolve disputes.

Reasons for disputes

The bulletin provides figures for the reasons for disputes from 2014-2018 as follows:

Dispute 2015/15 2015/16 2016/17 2017/18
Cleaning 20% 14% 43% 45%
Damage 19% 24% 43% 35%
Decpratopm 11% 10% 29% 26%
Gardening 3% 2% 11% 13%
Rent arrears 13% 14% 19% 26%
Other 16% 35% 34% 36%

The figures show that disputes were often multi-faceted, with more than one area for complaint, but show that ‘cleaning’ and ‘damage’ appear to be the most prevalent reasons for disputes. The bulletin highlighted that 460 disputes raised by tenants were resolved in 2018.

There has been an increase in the number of disputes involving gardening issues. Tenants who wish to rent a property with a garden, yard or exterior land of any sort should ensure they are clear about their maintenance responsibilities and should check if equipment to maintain the garden will be provided as part of the tenancy, or if this is something they will need to source or pay for themselves. 

What is deposit protection?

Since 2013, any deposit paid in respect of a private tenancy must be protected with one of three approved schemes, TDS NI being one of these schemes. The value of deposits protected in NI was reported as £31.4M in 2018, up from £9.9M when the scheme began. The average deposit in NI was stated as £587 in 2018.

Landlords can choose from either an insurance-based model or a custodial model of deposit protection. Insured deposits are held by the landlord or letting agent for the duration of the tenancy and these are insured with the scheme administrator. In the event of a dispute, the disputed amount is transferred to the deposit scheme administrator until an adjudication is published or an agreed resolution is reached. Custodial deposits are those held directly with the deposit scheme for the duration of the tenancy.

The bulletin pointed out that whilst the number of households in the PRS had risen from 37,000 in 2001 to 140,000 in 2016, there were only 43,211 protected tenancy deposits in 2016. The bulletin did not calculate the number of new tenancies since the legislation had been introduced in 2013, but suggested that there was nonetheless a significant shortfall between the number of tenancies and the number of protected deposits. The number of tenancy deposits had increased to 53,510 in 2018 and although not all tenancies require a deposit and not all homes are covered by the tenancy deposit regulations, the bulletin points out that the gap between the number of tenancies and the number of deposits is worthy of closer examination by policy makers.

Deductions from deposits

The starting position for any dispute around a deposit is that the money belongs to the tenant and the landlord must show an entitlement to that money, usually by evidencing that he or she has sustained a loss as a result of the tenant's misuse or neglect of the property. The TDS NI website has some useful tools and guides to assist both tenants and landlords through the dispute process and publishes case studies on its site to show how the adjudication process works in practice. 

Tenants who are concerned about unfair deductions from their deposits should speak to Housing Rights, while landlords can get advice on their rights and responsibilities in regards to deposits from Landlord Advice


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