RESIDENTIAL letting agents are struggling to adjust to new laws aimed at protecting tenants' deposits following 11th hour changes to government legislation.

Many agents are also reporting widespread confusion and high levels of ignorance among private landlords, and fear that large numbers are failing to comply with the new legislation.

From April 6, landlords have had to belong to one of three designated tenancy deposit protection schemes. These safeguard deposits for tenants and formalise the procedure of claiming back the deposit at the end of the tenancy. Landlords can enter these schemes privately or via a letting agent, who will manage the process for them.

At the end of the tenancy, landlords have 10 days to tell their tenants about any deductions from their deposit. Tenants then have 10 days to dispute this, and the agent or landlord then has a further 10 days to resolve the dispute. If it is still not resolved, the dispute will automatically go to the official dispute service.

But letting agents say many landlords still seem to be unaware of their responsibilities under the new rules.

The boss of one town centre residential lettings agency, said: "Private landlords don't have a clue what is going on. The legislation has been impossible to comply with as the Government keeps introducing new rules."

The agency has taken calls from worried private landlords who are so confused about what is going on that they have taken on an agent to oversee their lettings.

But John O'Donnell, the Bolton-based founder of the Northwest Landlords Association, said the new legislation has had no effect on his business. With 55 fully rented properties to his name and a waiting list to follow, Mr O'Donnell, based in Tonge Moor Road, has never asked his tenants for a deposit.

He said: "It all comes down to choosing the right tenant, taking good care to research, screen and select people before committing.

"It requires being clear from the outset in a tenancy agreement when rents are due, taking the time to be thorough in areas such as inventory lists to avoid any disputes later.

"Once they are in the property, it's about maintaining a mutual understanding and trust, whether it's to reliably address an issue with the property or being available early on to discuss any other problems the tenant may be having."