The crisis surrounding the spread of COVID-19 has - to put it bluntly - turned the world upside down, affecting every industry in just about every country to some degree. That includes Scotland. That includes the private rented sector.





We have outlined elsewhere that SafeDeposits Scotland is currently working on a remote basis, maintaining a business as usual approach with calls being answered, emails handled and dispute cases continuing.





We are aware however that the fast-moving changes to everyone's way of life in recent days and weeks will have left landlords, letting agents and tenants with a number of questions relating to tenancy deposit protection - ranging from easily answerable yes/no queries to more practically challenging considerations.





We have therefore put together the below summary of some of the questions we have been receiving from scheme users in recent days, along with our answers to these.





Q: Will my deposit remain protected?





A: Yes. Absolutely. We have already outlined this on our homepage, but in a time of uncertainty for many we reassure all users of the scheme that there is no change to deposit protection. As our name says - deposits are safe.





Q: Will there be a delay in my repayment?





A: Repayments will be made within five working days of both parties agreeing to the deposit repayment proposal as normal. An exception however is where repayments must be made by cheque - this represents a small minority of scheme users and we encourage all users, at least during this period, to provide us with UK bank account details so that a BACS payment can be made without delay. With restricted office access we are currently unable to issue cheques. Users should also be mindful that the current circumstances might in some way impede the other party to the tenancy's ability to respond to a repayment proposal as quickly as they might like to. Please remember that the other party has up to 30 working days to respond to a repayment proposal.





Q: Does the current crisis mean I don't need to pay my rent?





A: No it doesn't, at least not automatically. Unless you have come to a specific arrangement with your landlord, you would be in breach of your tenancy agreement if you withhold rent and could end up having a claim for rent arrears made against your deposit. In recent days there have been many examples shared on social media and other platforms of landlords offering rent breaks or reductions to tenants financially impacted by the COVID-19 crisis. Therefore the best advice we can give, if you are experiencing financial hardship as a result of the crisis, is to explain your situation to your landlord and discuss if any alternative rent arrangements can be made. If an agreement is reached, be sure to have this confirmed in writing and keep a record of that confirmation. Do not, however, simply stop paying rent without discussing with your landlord. The crisis is affecting people financially across the country, tenants and landlords alike, so communication between parties is really important.





Q: How do I upload evidence for a dispute if I only have a hard copy of it?





A: This is an important question, as one area of our operation that has been interrupted by the current situation is our ability to access any items that might be sent to our office in the post. We are therefore encouraging users to submit evidence electronically via our online evidence portal wherever possible, to ensure that we receive evidence within the required timescales. If you only have a hard copy of an item of evidence - a receipt for works carried out to rectify damage for example - please scan the item and submit via the online portal. We appreciate that not everyone will have access to a scanner and therefore suggest as another alternative to take a photograph of the item on a smartphone or digital camera and submit this as an image file online - if doing so please ensure that the content of the paperwork being photographed is clearly legible in the image. You can find the evidence portal by logging in to your user account, opening the deposit summary for the deposit concerned and clicking on the button marked "Submit Evidence".





Q: Will there be a delay in the decision regarding my dispute?





A: No. It has been business as usual for our independent adjudicators, many of whom actually work from home under normal circumstances. Normal dispute process timescales apply and decisions will continue to be issued in line with these.





Q: How can check-outs be carried out under the current restrictions?





A: This was a question being asked even before the lockdown conditions escalated on Monday night. We cannot offer a cast iron solution here, but our advice is to be as creative as is safely possible with the resources available to you. Can you arrange a video call with your tenant perhaps? When the tenant has vacated the property speak to them via live video so that they can see first-hand your assessment of the condition and cleanliness of the property. This could even be practiced in reverse, with the tenant walking you through the property via video call just before they leave it. Again this would provide the landlord or agent with an opportunity to carry out a check-out report. If you are a landlord or letting agent who has found a practical workaround to this particular query, please do let us know.