After the recent news that from April all three of the schemes, I wrote a blog post here.
I was contacted about this by all three schemes and they agreed to answer questions for me to publish online about their service.
None of the schemes have seen the answers provided by the others (until now) which makes it interesting.
- TDS questions were answered by Steve Harriott
- My Deposit questions were answered by Eddie Hooker
- DPS questions were answered by Julian Foster
1 Can you introduce yourself and tell us a bit about yourself and your position within your company.
TDS: Steve Harriott. I joined as Chief Executive in 2010 following a period of management consultancy and an extensive career in social housing. I am also the Chair of the Waterways Ombudsman.
My Deposits: Eddie Hooker, CEO of mydeposits.
DPS: Julian Foster – I’m the Managing Director of The Deposit Protection Service, and also have responsibility for its sister organisations, The Letting Protection Service Scotland and The Letting Protection Service Northern Ireland. Elsewhere within Computershare, I also run our childcare voucher and employee benefit businesses. I’ve been lucky enough to have worked in a variety of roles in the past, including Commercial Director and Operations Director, and I’ve been able to use these business management and customer service experiences in my current role. My aim is to lead the brilliant team we have here at The DPS to make sure we continue to play a leading role in the property industry and provide secure, efficient and reliable services to landlords, letting agents and tenants alike.
2 What three words (or hyphenated words) would you use to sum up the philosophy behind your service? (Eg landlord-focused / cheap / no-frills)
TDS: Customer-centric. Simple. Supportive.
My Deposits: Customer-focused, accessible and easy-to-work-with.
DPS: Customer-focused, simplicity and expertise
3 What company achievement to date are you most proud of and why?
TDS: Since 2007, TDS has grown from operating the largest insured deposit scheme in England and Wales to gaining a 77% market share in Northern Ireland and helping SafeDeposits Scotland achieve a 56% market share north of the border. The launch of our custodial scheme in April 2016 will further strengthen our position as the UK’s leading provider of deposit protection which means that all landlords, agents and tenants can benefit from TDS’ outstanding customer service whether they opt for the insured or custodial protection model. We have achieved this through our commitment to customer service and continuous development of our powerful deposit management system, taking the hassle out of deposit protection so that landlords and agents can concentrate on their own core business.
My Deposits: Securing the Jersey scheme was a big moment for mydeposits and becoming the only deposit scheme to offer deposit protection in every UK region is certainly the most significant. All deposit schemes operate in England/Wales, Scotland and Northern Ireland but in Jersey they wanted just one scheme and the Jersey Government felt that mydeposits offered the best overall combination of experience and customer-focused operations when compared to the competition. It’s the only time that we’ve gone head-to-head over a single contract and we won, so that award means more than any other.
DPS: I am very proud of our achievement of such a high score in the tender process when we retained our contract for the provision of a custodial tenancy deposit scheme. We were awarded 95.75% of all the marks available. Being entrusted with such a substantial responsibility by the Government – as well as being rated so highly as part of the process – reflects the smoothness, transparency, fairness and security with which we have run the scheme over the last eight years – as well as its huge popularity among landlords and letting agents.
4 From April 2016 all three schemes will have their own custodial scheme. Do you think this is a good development in the industry and if so why?
TDS: Landlords and agents have never had a choice of custodial scheme provider in England and Wales and this has not been good for the PRS or the deposit protection industry itself. Having a sole provider of a service in any sector is seldom healthy for innovation and customer service. TDS have excelled in other parts of the UK where there is a choice. We want landlord and agents to choose TDS due to merit and our consistent first-class service and we look forward to widening our reach to landlords and agents in England and Wales early next year with the launch of our custodial scheme.
My Deposits: With insurance-based schemes many customers choose on price, which means that regardless of the quality of service you offer you’ll lose out to those willing to undercut you. However, with a free-to-use scheme there are no hiding places. With custodial protection it’s all about the customer and how you deal with them. The real reward is how you are perceived by the market and to win a scheme is just the start. Can you actually deliver what the customer wants? We know of lots of landlords, agents and tenants who want a choice in the market over which custodial scheme to use and we’re just glad we can soon offer that choice. This development means more choice and competition which is the key to improvements for the consumer.
DPS: Competition is of course not new to the industry. There have been three providers for many years, and both our custodial and insured schemes have both been remarkably popular and regarded highly throughout that period.
As a company we embrace competition wholeheartedly. We believe it drives innovation, improves customer service standards and helps increase efficiency within an industry. Our overriding focus as an organisation is our customers, and competition can only help to improve the experiences of landlords, letting agents and tenants.
5 How will your custodial scheme differ from the others
TDS: We often hear that tenancy deposit schemes are all the same and we fundamentally believe that TDS do things differently. Sometimes it is the small differences that have the biggest impact on our customers, such as answering calls within 30 seconds or our swift resolution of disputes which means that landlords, agents and tenants can focus on other things, safe in the knowledge that their deposit is being handled securely and efficiently. We do, however, have some bigger differences coming. Innovation is at the forefront of our strategy and we are excited to introduce new features and functions in 2016.
My Deposits: This will all be about accessibility and ease of use for the customer. It’s a little too early to be giving away our grand plan but let’s just say that our approach to delivery will be attractive. We have been working with our partners, the National Landlords Association and hosting landlord, agent and tenant focus groups to get a clear picture of what customers want from a custodial protection scheme and we expect this effort will make us stand out once the schemes launch.
DPS: The Deposit Protection Service is wholly independent within the industry. It’s an aspect of our identity of which we are very proud, as we believe it gives us a totally free hand to focus on the services that we offer – and understand the world of deposit protection and property more generally from a truly objective viewpoint.
On top of this we bring with us many years of experience. Though the quality of the service we have offered has always been of the highest of standards, we’ve also learnt a lot over the last eight years, and have been able to improve constantly what we offer.
We’re also part of a global financial services company. We provide a range of services to some of the world’s biggest companies as well as to many governments. These experiences bring us truly global expertise and the insight and support of a team of many thousands of people. I believe this puts us in a truly unique position to provide the most exemplary deposit protection services.
6 Custodial schemes are free to the user but obviously there is a cost to you in providing the service. How will this be funded?
TDS: The custodial scheme will be entirely funded by the interest generated from the deposits we hold. Obviously there are start-up costs and these are funded by TDS’ surpluses, but we have a very robust business plan in place and our custodial scheme will be entirely self-funded.
My Deposits: There’s no government funding if the scheme fails and all custodial schemes will be funded by the interest earned on the deposit pool. In the current environment of low interest rates it will be a challenge but the shareholders of mydeposits have committed to investing and supporting the scheme just as they have done with each and every scheme we have launched to date. We look at the future rather than the present. Our insurance scheme will not suffer service-wise and our rates will not increase because of this opportunity.
DPS: There will be no change here. We will fund the service through the interest accrued on deposits while in our custody.
7 Finally – what is the number one problem which your customer feedback has revealed about tenancy deposit protection and what is your advice to landlords on how to deal with it?
TDS: The protection of money and the resolution of disputes is at the core of what the deposit schemes do and where there is a dispute at the end of the tenancy landlords and tenants sometimes question the time it takes to resolve. TDS work hard to minimize the impact on the parties, but at the same time we must see that the right decision is made and this means giving the parties reasonable time to present their case to the adjudicator. Transparency is at the forefront of our philosophy, and our online evidence portal allows the parties to a dispute to view each other’s evidence –and submit their own – quickly and easily by simply logging into their account. We are very open about our approach to adjudication and we regularly publish case studies and guidance on what to expect from the dispute resolution process.
That said, in any dispute, in any walk of life, communication is key. That only 1% of deposits enter our dispute resolution process shows that landlords and tenants do an outstanding job of resolving disputes themselves, and direct communication between the parties really is the best form of dispute resolution. Avoidance of a dispute is often achieved by the parties recognising that there may be other pressures affecting the other party and concentrating on reaching a reasonable outcome that doesn’t put either party in a better position than they ought to be. Where the parties remain professional and respectful of each other’s positions, an amicable solution is seldom far away.
My Deposits: It has to be a lack of understanding and communication. Deposit protection is a cultural thing and it is about improving relations between landlords/agents and tenants. Many landlords feel they are not trusted with the deposit but the reality is the deposit is not their money – it is the tenants – and this mind-set needs to be embedded into the lettings process. Deposit protection removes this trust argument by securing it with a scheme, allowing the landlord/tenant relationship to improve and become more transparent. mydeposits offers an ocean of guidance and advice on all aspects of deposit protection and we encourage communication between the landlord/ agent and tenant at every stage. The effort we put in to this is evidenced by the fact that we have the lowest dispute ratio of all current operators. It’s not about who wins or loses but more a question of what is fair and right, and our focus will always be on changing the mind-set I mentioned above and educating the entire marketplace.
DPS: So many of the problems that we see landlords experiencing result from a lack of understanding of the responsibilities and obligations that came as the result of being a landlord or tenant. We believe that we have a responsibility to help raise awareness among both parties to help reduce the likelihood of issues and in particular disagreement over the deposit when tenants move out.
It’s worth remembering how few tenancies end in dispute and require our independent adjudication service – less than 2% – but all too often the problems we see reported may have been avoided with a greater awareness of what landlords and tenants must do. We issue regular guidance in emails to service users, through our website and via social media. For example, our video for students that aimed to help them understand how to treat the property well and ensure they get their deposit back – was viewed by more than 10,000 people.
Landlords and tenants both need to understand their obligations and the accompanying regulations around deposits, as well as taking heed of common sense advice around check ins, maintenance, check outs and keeping records. But above all, one of the most important ways of avoiding problems is to maintain a constant channel of communication throughout a tenancy. By staying in touch over the course of a tenancy, both landlord and tenants can nip problems in the bud and ensure both can walk away happy at the end.
So, what did you make of that?
For example, do you think the schemes are sufficiently different to offer a real choice, and do you believe that they will be able to fund the schemes on the interest earned on deposits alone?