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Campaign to end "unreasonable" holding of deposits

20 August 2003
One in five tenants claim that their landlords have withheld part or all of their deposit unreasonably, according to research from the homeless charity Shelter.

The charity is joining forces with the Citizens Advice to campaign for changes in tenancy laws to ensure that people receive the money they are entitled to.

Research published by Shelter today highlights that each year 127,000 tenants have difficulty in getting their money back and £20.1 million of deposits are wrongfully withheld by landlords.

The problem is particularly bad for students. The NUS and Shelter estimate that over 35,000 students risk having part or all of their deposit withheld unfairly this summer as they move to new accommodation, return home or leave the area for work.

The research points out that nearly £800 million of people's money is being held by estate agents and landlords without any kind of statutory protection.

Shelter has joined forces with Citizens Advice, Consumers, Association, Association of Residential Letting Agents, Local Government Association, housing law experts, private tenants groups and consumer groups as well as nearly 150 MPs in a campaign calling for changes to protect tenants in the forthcoming Housing Bill.

Currently the only way tenants can get their money back is through issuing court proceedings. The lengthy and costly process leads many to write-off the debt and move on without any complaint.

Ben Jackson, Director of External Affairs at Shelter, said, "Each year tens of thousands of people lose out to this scam and are often forced into crippling debt to pay the next deposit, a few even face the extreme outcome of homelessness."

The campaign is calling for a National Tenancy Deposit Scheme to ensure that landlords cannot make unreasonable claims for damages caused by normal wear and tear. Shelter highlights that tenants have had their deposits withheld for as little as two stains on a carpet.

David Harker, Chief Executive, Citizens Advice, commented, "Citizens Advice Bureaux have been raising serious concerns about this issue for at least ten years and disputes over the return of deposits continue to cause major problems for CAB clients.

"Too many landlords treat rent deposits as their own money, instead of money handed over to them in trust. Many do not even bother to give tenants a proper reason for failing to pay it back. Reputable landlords suffer because tenants sometimes respond by withholding their final month's rent next time around."