When everyone has a home

Housing advice for Northern Ireland

Using a deposit dispute resolution service

Your landlord needs to have proper reasons to make a claim on your deposit money. All landlords have a legal responsibility to provide tenants with an inventory at the start of their tenancy.  A good landlord should take a detailed inventory when you move into the property and use the same inventory when you move out of the property to check if the condition or cleanliness of the property has got a lot worse.  

If you're not sure if your landlord's reasons for keeping your money are fair, speak to an adviser at Housing Rights who can give you information about the types of legal principles that tenancy deposit schemes and judges at Small Claims Court will use when making a decision. 

There are two types of deposit protection scheme; an insurance scheme and a custodial scheme.  The information you received at the start of the tenancy should explain

  • which scheme your landlord chose
  • whether it's an insurance scheme or a custodial scheme and
  • how to start a dispute if you don't agree with your landlord's decision to keep some of your money. 

Under the new schemes you may have to wait a bit longer to get your money back, particularly if there is a dispute over the amount owed to you.

Contact your scheme

Contact the company protecting your deposit.  You'll need your Deposit Account Number and your Deposit Repayment Number.  These numbers will be on the paperwork your landlord gave you about your deposit. The three companies that can protect deposits in Northern Ireland are

Getting your deposit back if it's protected in an insurance scheme

If your landlord used an insurance scheme he or she should give you back some or all of your deposit as soon as possible after the tenancy ends.  You can also write to your landlord requesting your deposit is returned. Your landlord may decide to pay all the money back to you or may keep some of the money to cover damage or rent arrears.

If you disagree with your landlord’s decision to keep some of your deposit you can write to the scheme administrator explaining your reasons for disagreeing with the landlord’s decision.

The scheme administrator will order your landlord to pay any disputed amount into a designated bank account.  If you and the landlord cannot come to an agreement over this disputed amount the scheme administrator will refer you to a dispute resolution service.  You do not have to engage with this service, but it is in your best interests to do so.  If you’re worried about this process get advice from Housing Rights.

Getting your deposit back if its protected in a custodial scheme

At the end of the tenancy either you or the landlord can write to the scheme administrator to explain how the deposit should be dealt with.

Landlord applies for return of deposit

When the administrator receives the landlord’s application the company will write to you to explain how the landlord feels the deposit should be dealt with.  If you agree with this, the money will be paid out within 5 working days of the administrator receiving written confirmation that you agree with the landlord’s decision.

If you disagree with the landlord’s decision, and you and the landlord are unable to negotiate a solution, the scheme will refer you to an adjudicator who will examine the evidence and make a ruling on how the money should be split.

Tenant applies for return of deposit

You can write to the administrator at the end of the tenancy to request the return of your deposit.  However, the company will not process your application if it receives one from the landlord.  On receiving your application they will wait 30 working days to see if the landlord also contacts them about the deposit.  If the landlord doesn’t contact them within this time period they will start to process your application.

The company will write to the landlord explaining how you feel the deposit money should be split.  If the landlord thinks this split is unfair, you will be referred to the dispute resolution service.  The landlord has 30 working days to respond to the scheme administrator.  If he doesn’t reply, the full deposit will be returned to you within 5 working days of this 30 working day period ending.


If you and your landlord cannot agree on how much of the deposit should be refunded the scheme administrator will ask you to use its Dispute Resolution Service. You do not have to use this service but it may be difficult to get your money back if you do not.  Your landlord must use this service if there is a dispute.  If there is a dispute it might help to get advice from an independent agency like Housing Rights.

The adjudicator appointed by the scheme administrator will look at all the evidence and decide how the deposit should be split between you and the landlord. Within 5 working days of making a decision the adjudicator will write to you and your landlord setting out

  • the facts of the case
  • the reasons for the decision and
  • the amounts that are to be repaid to the landlord and the tenant

You can ask for the decision to be reviewed, but only if the adjudicator has made a mistake relating to the facts of the case or how the law should be used. 

Did you leave before the tenancy was due to end?

If you left the property before your tenancy agreement was scheduled to end, you shouldn't use the dispute scheme to try to get your money back. These companies can't look at why you left early and will simply decide that you broke the legal contract by leaving early. This means they will automatically give your deposit to the landlord if he asks for it. If you left your tenancy early and believe you had good reasons for doing so, you could try to get your deposit back by going to Small Claims Court instead, but it's best to get advice first. 

Need help solving a problem?

You should always get advice if you are having problems with a tenancy. You can contact Housing Rights for advice on your rights. Housing Rights can also provide a mediation service if you and your landlord are having problems and need an independent person to help resolve these.