Scottish tenant survey shows ‘surprising lack of awareness’ around deposits

Victoria Smith

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, according to the largest survey of its kind.

A total of 4,547 Scottish tenants took part in the survey conducted by SafeDeposits Scotland. The results revealed that over a quarter of respondents (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.

36.4% of tenants also confessed to not knowing how to claim back deposits after moving out of privately rented accommodation, but this represents a 2.9% decrease on responses to the 2017 survey (38.6%).

Meanwhile, over half (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.

It’s not, however, all doom and gloom: 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 - by Scots law - to use the free, impartial adjudication service offered by tenancy deposit schemes.

Commenting on the findings of the survey, Victoria Smith, chief operating officer at SafeDeposits Scotland, said: “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.

“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.

“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. This year alone, we’ve attended eight student freshers’ events and will host a tenant conference in Glasgow next month, as well as hosting workshops for landlords across the country to educate the sector.

“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.

“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.

“We also offer a free deposit-checking tool on our website for any tenants who may be concerned that their money hasn’t been protected.”

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