We've Got Your Back on Security Deposit Returns

Housing contract coming to an end? Worried about getting your security deposit back? Our Advice Centre is on hand to guide you through the process and make sure you’re not stung by unfair charges.

Housing contract coming to an end? Worried about getting your security deposit back? Our Advice Centre is on hand to guide you through the process and make sure you’re not stung by unfair charges.

We know that you just want to chill now, but we also know that we have promised to put money back into students’ pockets. So, if you’re not enticed by this juicy topic, then simply save it for when your rental contract nears its end - it could save you hundreds of pounds.

It is common for landlords and tenants to disagree over how much money, if any, should be deducted from the deposit once the tenancy ends. Most student tenants find themselves in a deposit dispute at the end of their tenancy when their landlord proposes a laundry list of unfair charges. Some even find the landlord/agent is ignoring their communications and not returning the deposit at all. So, chances are that you will need the information below, which will help even if you’re abroad! 

After moving out, you should seek advice if your landlord/agent is:

  • Unjustifiably withholding all or part of your deposit
  • Denying responsibility for refunding the deposit
  • Ignoring your communications.

Know your rights

Remember that in a typical student house-share (Assured Shorthold Tenancy), your deposit should be protected by law, meaning that no money can be deducted from it without your written consent.

Landlords are legally required to safeguard their tenants' deposits with one of three government-backed deposit protection schemes: Deposit Protection Service, MyDeposits, or the Tenancy Deposit Scheme. You should have been given this information by the landlord/agent within 30 days of paying your deposit.

Please see our Cleaning Top Tips and Private Housing Leaving Guide for the latest information about your end of tenancy rights and obligations to avoid being overcharged.

Take action now

  1. Request a contract check so we can tell you what you’re legally required to do at the end of your tenancy.
  2. If your landlord/agent hasn’t already sent you instructions, contact them to ask them for any end-of-tenancy instructions that might not be in the contract, e.g. where to leave your keys.
  3. Gather all communications you’ve had with the landlord/agent regarding damages or the deposit into a single folder.
  4. Clean and empty the property, emptying and unplugging all devices.
  5. Take lots of photos of how you left the property, including inside the fridge and cupboards, hallways and outside spaces to create your own inventory
  6. Move out and return all keys.
  7. Ask for your deposit back in writing the day you move out. (This legally gives your landlord/agent ten days to return your security deposit or send you a list of proposed deductions.)
  8. Email this template message to your landlord/agent, asking them to revise their proposed deductions.
  9. If the landlord is not willing to negotiate with you, or you’re not sure what can and can’t be negotiated, ask for an advice appointment because we’ve got your back.

Deposit deductions


Not Allowed

Cleaning (if you didn’t clean sufficiently)

Fair wear and tear


Improving the property

Unpaid rent or bills, including council tax

Pre-existing damage

What is “fair wear and tear”?

A brand new piece of furniture won’t look brand new at the end of a 12-month tenancy. The landlord cannot charge you because something is not in pristine condition anymore. If something was already old when you moved in, then the landlord would probably have had to replace it anyway, and so they shouldn’t charge you for the complete cost.

How do I work out if a charge is fair?

For you, it might involve a fair bit of effort, but our Housing Advisor has learned from past cases and can go through it with you in an advice appointment.

If you’re up for the challenge yourself, here are our tips:

  • A ‘lead tenant’ should take charge of communicating with the landlord/agent and all communication should be through them only. They should communicate with your group and relay your joint decision back to the agent/landlord. This is because most of you are in a joint tenancy so one of you could end up unknowingly accepting deductions for all of you.
  • The ‘lead tenant’ should keep everybody copied into communications, but this does not mean that they have to do all the work. The whole group should be helping them compile the information they need.
  • If there is a dispute over which housemate damaged what, then simply split the cost equally among all housemates - while this might not be fair, it is fast and it works.
  • If you have damaged something beyond normal wear and tear, e.g. burnt carpet with iron, then that does not mean you have to cover the whole cost of repairing or replacing it.
  • Flag any charges that seem unjustified so you can challenge them.
  • Flag any charges that seem too high and ask for receipts/written quotes to prove the cost. Get some local quotes yourself and compare prices.
  • Flag any charges that are banned (see Private Housing Leaving Guide)
  • Only communicate with your landlord/agent in writing going forward.

What happens if none of this works?

If you are in a typical student house-share, your landlord will have had to protect your deposit, which gives you access to a free Alternative Dispute Resolution (ADR), which is very fair. You fill out the form (our advisors can help you with it) and then the landlord is ordered to return a fair amount of the deposit back to you.

In the meantime, the landlord can return the undisputed part of the deposit back to you.

Does this ever work?

Yes! Although it can be a bit of a pain, showing the landlord that you know your rights works most of the time. Last year, all students who went through ADR with the help of our Advice Centre won their cases. You have to get started ASAP though - you only have three months after moving out to use ADR. Don’t worry though, we have ‘form-geeks’ who love helping students with ADR forms.

How long does it all take?

  1. You should try negotiating with your landlord a couple of times, and then make a final offer of what you’re willing to pay (a few messages over about a week). 
  2. It can take a few days to gather all the information you need for the ADR, e.g. getting dates, screen-shots, emails, or photos from housemates.
  3. The ADR form is all online and can take 15 minutes to an hour to fill out, depending on the number of deductions proposed. You are given two weeks to complete the form once you begin.
  4. Once the form is submitted, you will get the outcome in 1-3 months. However, the landlord will be ordered to immediately refund the undisputed amount of the deposit to you.

Please note that it can take this long to get your deposit back, even if you don’t use ADR.

ADR saved RHUL students thousands of pounds last year – check out Alexa’s story from last year which was one of a number of our Advice Centre Success Stories.

We know it’s not fair that it’s such hard work to get your own money back, especially when you’ve just finished exams, but we’ll be here for you every step of the way. Once you’ve gone through your first deposit dispute with us, you’ll be able to breeze through it all on your own next time.

Further support

You can check out our Housing FAQs for other important information during the Covid-19 pandemic, while the latest advice and information can be found on our Coronavirus Hub.