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Deposit FAQs

The law on deposits

If you have an assured shorthold housing contract, and you pay a deposit which is intended to cover the cost of damage to the property or other breaches of contract, your deposit must be protected in a government authorised tenancy deposit protection scheme. Nearly all housing contracts in the private rented sector in Sheffield are assured shortholds so most deposits paid by students should be protected. There are some exceptions to this. For example, resident landlords, and landlords who use a different type of contract called an assured contract, do not have to protect deposits. The University is not a private landlord so it also does not have to protect deposits.

Deposit protection schemes

There are currently four authorised schemes. The organisations running the schemes are -

Three of the schemes are insurance-based schemes. With this type of scheme, the deposit stays with the landlord during the tenancy. At the end of the tenancy, if the landlord and tenant agree on how much of the deposit should be refunded to the tenant, the landlord simply refunds this amount. If the landlord and tenant cannot agree, the landlord must hand over the disputed amount to the scheme until the dispute is resolved. The remaining scheme, one of the schemes run by The Deposit Protection Services, is a custodial scheme. With this scheme, the landlord transfers the deposit to the scheme. At the end of the tenancy, if the landlord and tenant agree on how much of the deposit should be refunded to the tenant, the scheme will refund this amount. If the landlord and tenant cannot agree, the scheme will keep the deposit until the dispute is resolved. With all the schemes, the landlord is required to protect the deposit within 30 days of receiving it. There are also strict rules on the prescribed information that must be given to the tenant.

Top Tip - If your deposit is protected by one of the insurance-based schemes, the protection will end 90 days after the end of your tenancy unless you lodge a dispute within this time.

My landlord has complained about the condition of my house. I think it's ok. I'm moving out soon. What can I do to make sure I get my deposit back?

Clean the house thoroughly before you leave, making sure that you remove and properly dispose of all rubbish. If you have an inventory or check in report, use this to compare how the property looks now to what it was like when you moved in - allowing for fair wear and tear, it should be in the same condition as you found it. On the day you leave, take dated photographs or a video of every room.

I've heard that my landlord never refunds deposits. Can I withhold my last rent payment?

Not paying rent is a breach of contract so withholding your last payment would give your landlord grounds to take legal action against you (or your rent guarantor or joint tenants). Some people are willing to take the risk but if the landlord does take action, he or she will add costs and interest to the amount claimed so you could end up paying more. Also, if the landlord obtains a County Court judgement against you, your credit rating could be affected. Don't forget that if your deposit is protected, there should be no need to withhold your last payment because your landlord will not be able to keep your money unless your protection scheme is satisfied that he or she has a good case.

I do my share of the cleaning but my housemate doesn't bother. Could I lose my deposit?

My housemate hasn't paid all his rent. Will this affect my deposit refund?

The answer to both these questions depends on the type of contract.

You and your housemate each have your own contract for your own room in the house

If the only room that needs cleaning is your housemate's room, you should not lose your deposit. If shared parts of the house such as the kitchen need cleaning, you could lose your deposit. If you have separate contracts you do not normally share liability for rent so your deposit refund should not be affected by your housemate's rent arrears.

You and your housemate have a joint contract

In this situation you could be held responsible for the cost of cleaning any part of the house, including your housemate's room. In practice, if the person who is responsible admits it, and the cost of putting things right can be covered in full by that person's deposit, most landlords will not penalise anyone else in the house. There can be a problem when no-one accepts responsibility or the costs involved are more than a single person's deposit. In this situation, many landlords will apportion the costs so everyone pays a share.

Joint contracts normally make everyone who signs the contract responsible for the whole rent on the house so your deposit refund could be affected by your housemate's rent arrears. In practice, when rent is still owed at the end of a tenancy, one person's deposit is often not enough to cover the arrears. In this situation, landlords will often make deductions from deposits paid by the joint tenants of the person who owes the money. When this happens, it is possible for the joint tenants to take legal action against the person who has caused the problem.

I'm an international student and I will be leaving the UK soon after my contract ends. How can I make sure I get my deposit back?

Ask your landlord to inspect the house on the day you move out. If your landlord is willing to do this, make sure you are present during the inspection so you can talk and reach an agreement about when, how and how much of your deposit will be refunded. Some landlords will refund immediately after the final inspection but many will not refund until they have received confirmation that the utility bills have been paid. If your landlord is not willing to give you an immediate refund, make sure that he or she has your bank account and contact details. If your deposit has been protected, make sure you update your contact details with your protection scheme. If you are not the lead tenant, also make sure that you have his or her contact details. This is important because sometimes the whole deposit for the house is refunded to the lead tenant.

Top Tip - Even if you are no longer a student in Sheffield, the Student Advice Centre can help you with deposit problems connected to your time as a student here.

My landlord says he won't refund our deposits until we show that we have paid the utility bills. Can he do this?

This is common practice in Sheffield but the landlord can only do it if the housing contract allows. If possible, pay your final bills at a post office or bank where they will be stamped to show they have been paid.

My landlord says I have caused damage. I don't agree with him. What can I do?

If your deposit is protected, contact your deposit protection scheme and lodge a dispute. All the schemes offer free Alternative Dispute Resolution (ADR) services. Both you and the landlord will have to agree to use the ADR service and will be bound by the decision of the adjudicator.

From the tenant point of view, using ADR is much quicker and easier than going to court. The adjudicator will normally make a decision based purely on the documentary evidence provided by both sides so there is no need to attend a hearing or have any further direct contact with the landlord. Also, once a decision has been made, the scheme will refund the deposit within a few days (normally 10) so, if you win, you do not need to take any further action to get your money.

If your deposit is not protected, you may need to go to court to get your money back. This applies to deposits which do not have to be protected (such as deposits paid to resident landlords) and to deposits which should have been protected but have not been protected.

My landlord says I have caused damage. I agree with him but I think he's charging too much. What can I do?

Get quotes and/or research the cost of similar items. Don't forget that most landlords will pay someone to do their repairs for them so they will normally add labour costs and administrative charges to the bill. If negotiations break down, you can lodge a dispute or take legal action.

Top Tip - If something has been damaged, when the landlord calculates the charge to the tenant, he or she is expected to take into account the age, quality and condition of the item as it was at the beginning of the tenancy.

I have found out that my deposit should be protected but it isn't protected. I am still living in the house. What should I do?

Ask your landlord to protect your deposit - you have a much better chance of getting your deposit back quickly and in full at the end of your contract if it protected. Alternatively, or if your landlord still fails to protect your deposit, you can take legal action. Your application would be for an order that your deposit is either refunded or protected in a custodial scheme. If you win the court will also award you compensation of between one and three times the amount of your deposit.

Top Tip - If your deposit should be protected but is not protected, it is more difficult for your landlord to evict you.

You can also take legal action if your deposit has been protected but was protected more than 30 days after you paid it and/or you have not received your prescribed information. To date there have been very few reported cases on these situations so the outcome is less certain.

I have found out that my deposit should have been protected but it was not protected. I have moved out and my landlord is refusing to refund my money. What can I do?

You can take legal action against your landlord. If the court finds that your deposit should have been protected but it was not protected, it can award you compensation of between one and three times the amount of your deposit. It can do this even if it decides that your landlord can keep some or all of your deposit, for example because you caused damage.

Top Tip - Contact all the deposit protection schemes to get written confirmation that your deposit was not protected as evidence to support your claim.

You can also take legal action if your deposit was protected more than 30 days after you paid it and/or you did not receive your prescribed information. To date there have been very few reported cases on these situations so the outcome is less certain.

My deposit is not covered by deposit protection rules. I have moved out and my landlord is refusing to refund my money. What can I do?

If you cannot reach an agreement with your landlord, you will have to go to court to get your money back. Most legal cases which involve claims for less than £10,000 are allocated to the Smalls Claims Track in the County Court.

Top Tip - You can make a County Court claim to get your deposit back up to six years from the date the money should have been refunded to you.

For more advice on deposit problems visit the Shelter website or contact the Student Advice Centre to make an appointment with a housing adviser.

Page updated 9 July 2015