Tenancy deposit scheme launched

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The Scottish government has recently launched a new Tenancy Deposit Scheme designed to protect tenants from having their deposits unlawfully withheld following the end of a tenancy.

The scheme’s launch follows reports that as many as 11,000 deposits, worth up to £3.6 million, may be withheld unfairly in Scotland each year. At present, the only way of challenging the retention of deposits is through legal action.The change in the law is to be introduced in March and will affect more than 230,000 tenants in Scotland’s rented homes.

The Tenancy Deposit Scheme is predicted to have a particularly positive impact upon student tenants, the majority of whom pay a month’s deposit directly to their landlord or letting agency before starting their lease, and who often struggle to regain their deposits following disputes over wear and tear on the property.

Under the new law, rather than being paid directly to landlords, deposits will be paid into independently controlled funds. If tenant and landlord cannot come to an agreement over the return of a deposit, a free and independent arbitration service will deal with the dispute.

“The majority of landlords behave responsibly and so it is important that we tackle those landlords who continue to tarnish the image of the private rented sector,” said Andrew Neil, the Scottish Housing Minister.

The Scottish NUS welcomed the introduction of the scheme, claiming that students lose out on £200 on average through landlords or letting agencies unfairly withholding deposits.

“The creation of a tenancy deposit scheme is something NUS Scotland has long campaigned for and will be good for students, tenants and the vast majority of reputable landlords,” Liam Burns, President of NUS Scotland said. “Far too often we hear of students struggling to get their money back due to landlords treating deposits as a de facto fee rather than a safety net for damage to properties.”

The scheme has not been universally acclaimed, however. John Blackwood, of the Scottish Association of Landlords, argued that the change in the law was disproportionate to the scale of the problem, and argued that more emphasis should be placed on cracking down on unregistered or negligent landlords.

“A properly enforced landlord registration scheme would be far more cost effective and successful in not only tackling bad landlords from illegally withholding tenant’s deposits but by removing them from operating in the sector altogether,” Blackwood said.

Students in St Andrews, however, have welcomed the change in the law. “I think landlords often get too much of a free ride over students,” said Aggie Reeve, a third year student from Kent. “Hopefully this scheme will mean there’s less abuse of the system.”

The news comes as students across St Andrews search for accommodation for the next academic year, and demand for private housing continues to outstrip availability.

Henry Turnbull

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