New tenant deposit scheme welcomed by Citizens Advice

CITIZENS Advice (NI) has welcomed confirmation from the Department for Social Development that regulations to establish a tenant deposit scheme in Northern Ireland will be laid before the Assembly before the summer.

Citizens Advice has campaigned for such a scheme for many years, particularly since introduction of a comparable scheme in England and Wales in 2005.

Pól Callaghan, Head of Policy & Information said: “Citizens Advice welcomes this confirmation that the regulations to set up a Tenant Deposit Scheme will be introduced to the Assembly before the summer break. It is now over a year since the enabling legislation was passed here and a full five years since such a scheme was introduced in England and Wales.

“Our counterparts in Scotland will benefit from this type of scheme from the start of July, while the Republic is also moving towards this idea.”

“Tenants complaining about unfairly withheld deposits remain a major source of enquiries with Citizens Advice Bureaux. This is a significant social issue given that 125 000 dwellings are now in the private rented sector, making it larger than the social housing stock. One in seven tenancies end with a tenant feeling that some or all of the deposit was unjustifiably withheld. Something clearly needs to be done.”

“At present, people are left to take a claim to the Small Claims Court. However, many people are reluctant to pursue this as it involves paying a fee and an emotional and time commitment. The onus is on the tenant to prove they have been wronged and for many any court process is a deterrent. For numerous people who have only part of their deposit withheld, the reality is that a fee of £30 or £50 in tandem with the whole process acts as a deterrent. A regulated scheme would be free, accessible and transparent and shift the onus to landlords to prove damage.

“The Small Claims Court is also problematic for people who have to emigrate or who come here from abroad and go home. In practice, very few people can or will pursue claims once they have left the jurisdiction.

“There is also the problem for some people that they don’t have full details of their landlord. This can be tracked down in some cases but without it and the attendant commitment to finding it, a court claim can’t be lodged.

“A Tenant Deposit Scheme makes sense all round. In England, the main scheme now sees disputes in only 2% of cases, which is a much lower figure than here. The scheme will protect the interests of both tenants and responsible landlords. It can only help to raise standards in what is an increasingly important sector, particularly as benefits cuts, unemployment and mortgage unavailability continue to bite.

“We hope that the regulations are dealt with promptly by the Assembly so that a scheme can be brought into effect as soon as possible. While we await that, we would urge tenants to get contracts, rent books and inventories agreed with their landlords when they move in. Photographs and video images of the property are particularly helpful in avoiding disputes down the line. If in doubt, seek advice from your local Citizens Advice Bureau.”