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Tenancy deposits

When you rent from a private landlord you will normally be asked to pay a deposit as security against damage to the property or non-payment of rent. 

If you paid your deposit after 1 April 2013, your landlord must use a tenancy deposit scheme to protect it. This page explains the scheme.

What is a tenancy deposit scheme?

A tenancy deposit scheme protects your deposit. This means you can be sure that you will get your deposit back at the end of the tenancy, as long as you are entitled to it. For example, your landlord may be entitled to some of the deposit if there is any damage or if you haven’t paid all your rent. The scheme also provides a free dispute resolution mechanism which can be used to sort out disputes between tenants and landlords over how much of the deposit should be returned at the end of the tenancy.

There are two types of scheme and it is up to your landlord to choose which one they want to join. One type is a custodial scheme and the other is insurance-based. The main difference is that:

  • in a custodial scheme, your landlord pays the deposit into the scheme and the scheme looks after it
  • in an insurance-based scheme, your landlord holds onto the deposit, but has to pay insurance to the scheme

How do I know if my deposit is protected?

Your landlord must protect your deposit in an approved tenancy deposit scheme within 14 days of receiving your deposit.

Within 28 days of receiving your deposit your landlord must give you specific written information (called prescribed information) about your deposit, including details of:

  • the amount of the deposit
  • the name of the scheme it is protected with
  • the contact details for the scheme
  • reasons why your deposit may not be repaid in full at the end of the tenancy

It is also important that you and your landlord agree, in writing, what condition the property is in when you start renting it, including a list of the furniture and fittings (known as an inventory). This should help prevent disagreements at the end of the tenancy

What happens at the end of the tenancy?

You should get your deposit back within five working days if you and your landlord agree about how much you should get back. The way this works, and what happens if there is a disagreement, depends on the type of scheme your landlord is using. Make sure the landlord and the scheme have your current contact details such as a forwarding or email address or a telephone number.

It is reasonable for your landlord to take money off the deposit to cover, for example, damage to the property or furniture, or missing items which were listed in the inventory. But they should not take money off the deposit to pay for fair wear and tear, in other words, damage which has taken place over time through normal use.

Custodial scheme

If your deposit is being held in a custodial scheme and you and your landlord agree how much you should get back, you or your landlord can ask the scheme administrator for the deposit to be repaid at the end of your tenancy. 

If you and your landlord disagree about the amount that you should get back, this money will be held by the scheme until the dispute is sorted out and an agreement has been reached.

Insurance-based schemes

If your deposit is being held in an insurance-based scheme, your landlord will repay your deposit to you if you agree about the amount that should be repaid.

If you and your landlord disagree about how much of your deposit you should get back, your landlord must pay you the amount which isn't disputed and pay the rest into the scheme until the disagreement has been sorted out.

For example, you paid a £600 deposit. Your landlord wants to keep £200 to replace damaged furniture, but you believe the damage was there before you moved in. Your landlord must give you £400 and put the other £200 into the scheme until your dispute is settled.

If the landlord does not pay you what you are entitled to, the insurance scheme will pay this amount to you directly and get it back from the landlord later.

How quickly will I get my deposit back?

If you and your landlord agree on the amount of deposit to be repaid to you, this should happen within 5 working days from the end of the tenancy.

Sorting out disagreements about deposits

Each scheme has a free service which landlords and tenants can use to sort out disagreements about deposits. This is called the dispute resolution mechanism.

If you or your landlord do not agree with the amount of deposit to be returned, either of you can ask the scheme administrator for the case to be forwarded to the free dispute resolution mechanism. The scheme administrator must first be satisfied that you and your landlord have tried but failed to resolve your disagreement. 

If the request comes from the landlord, the administrator will only agree to the referral if the tenant also agrees to use the dispute resolution mechanism. If the request comes from the tenant, the administrator will refer it to the dispute resolution mechanism whether or not the landlord agrees.

As part of the dispute resolution mechanism an independent adjudicator will look at evidence provided by you and your landlord to reach an agreement about the amount of your deposit that should be repaid to you.

You do not have to use the dispute resolution mechanism.  You may choose to go to court.

Further information on sorting out disputes is available on nidirect at www.nidirect.gov.uk.

What if my landlord or agent does not protect my deposit?

If your landlord or an agent acting for your landlord does not protect your deposit using a tenancy deposit scheme, or does not provide you with the prescribed information about the scheme and your deposit within 28 days, you should report the landlord to your council's environmental health department. 

If the council decides that your landlord has failed to protect your tenancy within 14 days of receiving it, they may ask the landlord to pay up to three times the amount of the deposit to them as a fine for breaking the law. The council may also take court action against your landlord if the deposit is not protected and the court may impose a fine of up to £20,000.

What if I paid a deposit before 1 April 2013?

If you paid your deposit before 1 April 2013 your landlord doesn't have to protect it in a tenancy deposit scheme. If you paid a deposit before 1 April 2013 and you have a disagreement with your landlord about it, try to come to an agreement.

If that doesn't work, you will have to think about taking your landlord to court. If you're in this position, you should get advice.

►You can get advice from your local CAB. To search for details of your nearest CAB, including those that can give advice by e-mail, click on nearest CAB.

Who runs the Tenancy Deposit Schemes in Northern Ireland?

Any deposit taken for a private tenancy on or after the 1 April 2013  has to be protected in an approved tenancy deposit scheme. Three organisations have been approved as Scheme Administrators to operate tenancy deposit schemes in Northern Ireland. They are: .

You can find more information, including the list of services the organisation protecting your deposit offers, on the relevant organisation’s website.

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