Which? Legal

Deal with a deposit dispute

You can get affordable advice from Which? Legal if you're having trouble getting your deposit back. You'll get personal advice from an expert who'll give you guidance on what you can do.

How do I get my deposit back?

How you get your security deposit back will depend on whether your deposit was protected and which tenancy deposit protection scheme it is being held with.

If you paid a deposit on or after the 6th April 2007, then your landlord should have used a tenancy deposit protection scheme to safeguard your security deposit, also known as a tenancy deposit.

When should my landlord return my deposit?

Your landlord must return your deposit within 10 days of you both agreeing how much you get back. 

If you're disputing the amount with your landlord, your security deposit will be protected in the tenancy deposit protection scheme until you've resolved the problem.

You'll be able to use the free Alternative Dispute Resolution (ADR) service of your scheme to resolve the issue, if you're unable to reach an agreement.

How can I find out which deposit scheme I'm with?

Your landlord is legally required to place your deposit into an authorised deposit protection scheme within 30 days of receiving it. 

When you started renting, the main information your landlord should have shared with you is:

  • the contact details of the tenancy deposit scheme being used
  • the landlord or agent's contact details
  • how to apply for the release of the deposit
  • information explaining the purpose of the deposit
  • what to do if there is a dispute about the deposit

Your landlord had a statutory obligation (under the Prescribed Information Order) to give you certain information about your rights relating to:

  • the tenancy deposit protection scheme protecting your deposit
  • the deposit
  • specified tenancy related information.

You should be able to find the details of the tenancy deposit protection scheme being used in that information. But, if you're not sure or can't find the details, contact the tenancy deposit schemes that provide security deposit protection where you live and ask them.

In England and Wales there are three schemes available for tenancy deposit protection. 

In Scotland there are three approved schemes:

In Northern Ireland there are three schemes approved to provide tenancy deposit protection:

In Summary

  • Since 6th April 2007 all security deposits must be protected in a security deposit or insurance scheme
  • If you're in dispute with your landlord over some, or all of your security deposit, you can use Alternative Dispute Resolution to help settle the matter
  • If you're unhappy after using the ADR scheme you can go court to resolve the dispute

What can a landlord deduct from my deposit?

Your landlord may send you a list of deductions taken from your deposit rather than returning it straight away. They could deduct money from a deposit to cover:

  • missing or damaged items
  • cleaning costs
  • damage to the property
  • unpaid rent or bills

Read the list of deductions they have sent you carefully and see whether you agree with them. 

If you haven't received an itemised list of deductions, you should ask for one. 

Your landlord must tell you what any deductions are for and provide you with costs for each item.

I'm not happy with the proposed deductions, what can I do?

If you don't agree with some or all of the costs your landlord is proposing to deduct from your deposit, you'll need to write to your landlord explaining what costs you disagree with. 

Write to your landlord

Your letter of complaint should state:

  • which costs (if any) you think are unreasonable
  • the reasons you think the costs are unreasonable
  • the amount of money you think should be returned to you
  • a request for an itemised list of deductions and costs, if they haven't provided you with this

If your landlord doesn't respond to your letter, write again giving them a deadline within which to respond, 14 days, for example.

Once you've agreed the deductions, getting your deposit back from the landlord should take 10 days.

Escalate your complaint

If you still don't get a reply, or your landlord still won't return the disputed part of your deposit, you should refer them to the appropriate tenancy deposit protection scheme. 

You can use our free tool below to help you generate a claim letter to inform your landlord or letting agent that you intend to take your claim to the tenancy deposit protection scheme.

You will need to do this within the specific timetable laid out by the deposit protection scheme that holds your deposit. You should check what process you need to follow with your particular scheme on it's website.

Because participation in the ADR process requires consent by both parties, the final decision of the adjudicator is binding for both the landlord and tenant.

But, if you cannot agree a resolution to your dispute, then you can still seek a remedy in the small claims court.

My landlord won't return my tenancy deposit

If you’re having trouble getting your deposit back from the landlord and you're unable to reach agreement with them, you can use the free service offered by your tenancy deposit protection scheme to help resolve the dispute.

You don't have to use the free ADR service, but if you and the landlord both agree to use the service to resolve the dispute, then you're both bound by its decision. 

This doesn't prevent you from taking the matter to the small claims court instead of using ADR, but the judge at court may want to know why you refused to engage with the dispute service.

You can use our free template letter to ask for your security deposit back.

My landlord hasn’t protected my deposit – what should I do?

If you think your landlord hasn't protected your deposit in a scheme, the action you take will depend on whether your tenancy is still current or if your tenancy has ended.

If your tenancy is still current you should ask your landlord to protect your deposit and provide you with information on that protection. 

If it has been 30 days or more since you paid your tenancy deposit to your landlord (or the landlord's agent), you could write to your landlord and ask for your deposit to be protected.

If your tenancy has ended and your landlord hasn't protected your deposit, the law says that you're entitled to have your tenancy deposit returned to you, minus any deductions for the cost to repair damage caused. 

A court can order your landlord to return your deposit and pay you compensation of between one and three times its value.

It's important to collect and check any relevant evidence to back up your case:

  • your tenancy agreement
  • evidence you paid your rent in full
  • evidence showing you paid a tenancy deposit
  • confirmation the deposit was against damage and loss (rather than rent in advance)
  • copies of any letters to and from your landlord
  • evidence that the deposit was not protected in a scheme
  • your inventory and photos of the property at the end of the tenancy
  • anything else that may be relevant.

If you can clearly show that your landlord didn't comply with their obligations under the law, this may convince your landlord that you are serious about recovering your deposit. 

In such a case your landlord may prefer to return your deposit to you rather than face court action.

Renting guide

The Department for Communities and Local Government has produced a How to Rent guide, which includes some useful tips for both landlords and tenants. 

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