Nobody has the right to credit. Before giving you credit, lenders such as banks, loan companies and shops want to be confident that you can repay the money they lend. To help them do this, they may look at the information held by companies called credit reference agencies.
If personal information held about you is incorrect or out of date, it could lead to you being unfairly refused credit.
What are credit reference agencies?
Credit reference agencies (CRAs) give lenders a range of information about potential borrowers, which lenders use to make decisions about whether they will offer you credit or not. They hold certain information about most adults in the UK.
The three main consumer credit reference agencies in the UK are Callcredit, Equifax and Experian.
Most of the information held by the CRAs relates to how you have maintained your credit and service/utility accounts. It also includes details of your previous addresses and information from public sources such as the electoral roll, public records including county court judgments, and bankruptcy and insolvency data.
The information held by the CRAs is also used to verify the identity, age and residency of individuals, to identify and track fraud, to combat money laundering and to help recover payment of debts. Government bodies may also access this credit data to check that individuals are entitled to certain benefits and to recover unpaid taxes and similar debts.
Credit reference agencies are licensed by the Financial Conduct Authority.
If you think you have been refused credit unfairly, you can ask the lender to explain the main reason why and review their decision. Even if the lender reviews their decision, they may still turn you down. You can request a copy of your credit reference file from any of the three main consumer credit reference agencies in the UK.
How do I get my credit reference file?
You have the right to write to any of the credit reference agencies and ask for a copy of your credit reference file, which will cost you £2. Your letter should include:
- your full name;
- any other names you have used or been known by in the last six years eg your maiden name;
- your full address including postcode;
- any other addresses you have lived at in the last six years;
- your date of birth; and
- a cheque or postal order for £2 made payable to the credit reference agency.
You should keep a copy of your letter and you may want to send it by recorded delivery. Unless the agency needs more information, they have seven working days from receiving your letter to provide you with a copy of your file.
Sometimes the credit reference agencies need more information from you before they can send you your file. For example, they may need proof of your name and address from a utility bill or bank statement. This is important to make sure that no one else gets your file by mistake or to check that no one else has fraudulently applied for your credit reference file. The agencies do not have to send you your file until they get this information.
The addresses of the credit reference agencies are:
Customer Service Centre
P.O. Box 10036
0800 014 2955
Do I have to get my credit report from all three CRAs?
As there is no DPA requirement for lenders to report such data to the credit reference agencies, it is up to the lender to decide which credit reference agency they wish to use, if any.
While we appreciate it is frustrating to have to buy three copies of your credit reference file you may want to consider buying one first as it may be that all accounts appear on there and you won’t have to buy the other two. You could ask your lenders which CRAs they use to help narrow this down. You may find that they all use one, or even all of, the CRAs.
Why do I have to sign up to a monthly subscription service to see information about me? Surely I should be allowed to access this for free.
While all three CRAs offer products which allow an individual instant access to their credit report via a monthly subscription service, there is no obligation on anyone to have to sign up to any of these products in order to get a copy of their credit file.
If you want to order your £2 report, look for the phrase ‘statutory report’ on the CRAs’ websites.
Why are the CRAs allowed to hold all this information on me? I haven’t given consent for this.
The Data Protection Act (DPA) doesn’t actually require the CRAs, or any other organisation, to have your consent before they are allowed to process your personal data as long as they have a legitimate reason for doing so and you have been told what is going to happen to your data. If you have taken out a loan or credit card you will probably find this in the original terms and conditions that you signed.
Because lenders rely on the information provided by the CRAs, it’s likely that they will refuse you credit if you don’t agree to your information being shared with a credit reference agency. However, organisations wishing to process sensitive personal data about you are subject to tighter controls around what constitutes a ‘legitimate reason’ for processing your data and may need to rely on consent more often. For the purposes of the DPA financial information is not distinguished as being ‘sensitive’ personal data.
Do companies need my consent to carry out a credit search?
The DPA doesn’t actually require these companies to have gained your consent before they can carry out a search of your credit file as long as they have a legitimate reason for doing so and you have been told that this search is going to take place. If you have taken out a loan or credit card you will probably find this in the original terms and conditions that you signed.
Why are the CRAs allowed to sell my data to companies who want to use it for marketing?
All of the CRAs have different business functions running through them. The information that the CRAs receive for credit referencing purposes is, and should, only ever be used for credit referencing purposes.
CRAs also operate lead generating functions, but the data they sell in this area of their business is made up of information which the CRAs have bought from local authorities about individuals who had not previously opted-out of the full or ‘open’ electoral register and information from other sources, such as lifestyle questionnaires and competition entries. The CRAs only buy data from organisations who have been given consent to pass this data on for direct marketing purposes.
The information used for credit referencing is held entirely separately from data which is sold on for marketing purposes.
What should I do if my credit file is inaccurate?
If your credit file is inaccurate, you can raise your concerns with the credit reference agency. However, the problem may lie with the original lender or organisation that supplied the agencies with their information so you will need to contact them instead.
If you have contacted the credit reference agencies and the original lender and there is an obvious inaccuracy which they are unwilling to correct then you may wish to report your concerns to the ICO. Please note that it's not our role to decide on financial disputes.
Who is responsible for the information on my credit file?
It is easy to see why people assume the CRAs are responsible for all the information that appears on their credit file. However, in reality, the lenders and telecoms and utility companies who passed the information to the CRA in the first place also have responsibilities for the information that appears on your credit file.
As a general rule, if the entry you are looking at has the name of a company on it, it’s likely to be that company who is responsible for that entry. The CRAs cannot amend this data without the permission of that company.
Having said this, we still expect the CRAs to take reasonable measures to ensure the information that is reported by lenders via their credit files is accurate.
The information that is generated by the CRAs and for which they are responsible, includes financial links, linked addresses and alias information.
If the bank is responsible for this data why can’t they just update the entry on my credit file? It seems like it would be quicker.
They can. Each of the CRAs provides lenders with the facilities to make their own changes to the information you see on your credit file. So if your bank needs to make an urgent update they can do this without requesting that the CRA makes the changes for them.
The bank didn’t send me a default notice under the Consumer Credit Act 2006; can they still list a default on my credit file?
In most cases, the answer is likely to be yes, provided that the default recorded is an accurate reflection of events and that when you opened the account you were told (probably in the terms and conditions of the credit agreement) that this may happen. It is unlikely that recording the default, even if you don’t recall receiving a default notice, would breach the DPA.
A ’default‘ on your credit file simply means that the lender considers that the relationship between you has broken down. Therefore, while it may be a requirement of the Consumer Credit Act to issue a default notice, there is no DPA obligation on a lender to issue a default notice to individuals before marking an account as being in default on their credit file.
Further information on filing defaults with the CRAs can be found in the Principles for the reporting of arrears, arrangements and defaults at credit reference agencies. The principles in this document have been drawn up by the credit industry in collaboration with the ICO.
I was discharged from my bankruptcy last year but the CRAs have not amended the accounts on my credit file to show this. What should I do?
Once you have been discharged you will have to notify each of the lenders whose accounts were included in this bankruptcy as they will not automatically be told. You should send them the evidence of this and ask them to amend their entry on your credit file to reflect this. The specifics of how it will look vary depending on the CRA but the entries should be marked in such a way that any lender searching your credit file can clearly see that this debt is no longer outstanding and you are not being pursued for it. Most accounts that have been discharged from bankruptcy will show as settled/satisfied or partially settled/satisfied with a zero balance outstanding.
If any of the lenders respond refusing to amend their entry or fail to amend their entry within 28 days of receiving your proof of discharge you may wish to report your concern with the ICO. Please note, in this instance it is the lender who is the subject of any complaint you raise with us, not the CRA.
I took out a mobile phone contract for my ex-partner and he has stopped paying the bills. I have never used the phone so it’s nothing to do with me. Shouldn’t the default be on his file instead of mine?
When you take out any type of credit for another person, if that credit agreement is in your name unfortunately the default will appear on your file. This is because it is you who the organisation has a relationship with, not your partner/child, etc.
This is why you have to be very careful about taking out credit for other people and always bear in mind that this may reflect badly on your credit status, not theirs, if they fail to make the agreed payments.
My credit file is showing information about someone else who has the same name as me but a different date of birth, what can I do?
In most cases this will simply be a mix up as most of these cases are caused by people with the same name living at the same address, but it could also be a case of identity fraud.
The first thing you should do is notify the CRA you obtained your credit file from of this error. They should be able to carry out further checks to understand what has gone wrong and take action to put it right. In some cases they may need you to provide evidence of your correct address, and should ask you to provide any information they need. If they respond refusing to amend this information you may wish to report your concerns to us.
Someone else has used my details to try to get credit fraudulently and there have been lots of searches carried out in my name. Can I get these removed from my credit file?
Searches on your credit file should not have a negative impact on your credit history. Lots of searches in a short space of time however can imply that you are having problems getting credit which, in itself, can impact an organisations decision about whether it will give you credit or not.
If you believe you have been a victim of fraud you should report it to the relevant fraud departments of the organisations involved. As fraud is a crime, you should consider reporting this issue to the police if they are not already aware.
The ICO cannot investigate matters of fraud as this falls outside of our remit, and we do not have the power to make a decision on whether or not an account has been opened and/or operated fraudulently.
However, if a lender has acknowledged that an entry on your credit file relates to a fraudulently operated account, but refused to remove the entry we may be able to look into a complaint about the fairness and relevance of this entry remaining. If you are able to provide us with evidence from the lender(s) concerned demonstrating that they have acknowledged the account was operated fraudulently but have failed or refused to remove the corresponding entries from your credit file you may wish to report your concerns to us. Each of the CRAs also has their own Victim of Fraud Teams who work together to help resolve issues which relate to fraudulent activity. The CRAs have a special agreement in place which enables them to share information with each other about victims of fraud. This means that once you have notified one of the CRAs that you have been the victim of fraud you should not need to notify the other two. They will do this for you.
My partner and I are financially ‘linked’ because we have a joint account and are both named on the mortgage. If he applies for credit will the lender look at my credit file as well as his? Will I be notified of this?
In short, yes, the lender can have full access to your credit file in the same way it could if it were you applying for credit. This is because your financial situation may have a bearing on whether your partner is offered credit or not. Because you are financially linked they are, effectively, looking at your credit history and ability to repay the loan as a couple rather than as an individual.
You should only be linked to someone who you have a joint account with or in some situations, have agreed to act as a guarantor for (or vice versa). You should not be linked to anyone just because you live at the same address.
When a joint account is closed you can write to the CRAs to request a disassociation from that individual.
If you find a financial link to someone you don’t know, or you believe to be inaccurate you should raise this with the CRA and ask that they investigate this for you.
One of my defaulted accounts has been sold on to a debt collection company. This debt is now appearing twice on my credit file. Is this right?
If it is clear from looking at the two entries that they relate to the same account, with the same default date and balances and the original debt is clearly showing as settled then it is likely that we would consider this to be fair in terms of the DPA. However, if the entries are recorded on your credit file in a way that may look like they are two different debts, or that could make the debt remain on your credit file for longer than six years from the date of the original default it is unlikely that we would consider this to be fair.
There is a CCJ on my credit file that has nothing to do with me. What can I do?
Because information relating to county court judgments (CCJs) is often received from the courts without the individual’s date of birth this can sometimes lead to mix ups – particularly where people with the same name live at the same address.
If this has happened to you, you should raise this as a dispute with the CRA who you obtained your credit file from. They can, in the first instance, try and match you to the correct information. There are ‘easy’ mistakes to identify such as an obvious mis-keying of a house number or misspelling of a name and in these cases the correct information can be merged, or separated as appropriate. The CRA should reply to let you know that they have resolved the issue or, if they are unable to, explaining why.
If, after raising a dispute with the CRA they have failed to resolve the issue you may want to report your concerns to the ICO. You can find more information about how to make a complaint and the evidence we require can be found in Section 5 of our Credit explained guidance.
I received a copy of my credit file and there is no electoral roll information on there. I am definitely registered to vote and this has caused my credit score to drop. What can I do about this?
If you find that your electoral roll information is inaccurate, or missing, from your credit file the first thing you should do is raise this as a dispute with the CRA that you obtained your credit file from. They can, in the first instance, try and match you to the correct information. There are ‘easy’ mistakes to identify such as an obvious mis-keying of a house number or misspelling of a name and in these cases the correct information can be merged, or separated as appropriate. The CRA should reply to let you know that they have resolved the issue or, if they are unable to, explaining why.
If, after raising a dispute with the CRA they have failed to resolve the issue you may want to report your concerns to the ICO. You can find more information about how to make a complaint and the evidence we require in section 5 of our Credit explained guidance.
I started receiving debt collection letters for a debt I know nothing about. I got a copy of my credit file and noticed that I have been linked to an address I have never lived at. What should I do?
Address links are typically created by the CRAs from the information given by individuals in credit agreements. However, errors can occur when information is provided inaccurately or when a ‘mis-trace’ has occurred.
Aside from their credit referencing function each of the CRAs operates a separate ‘tracing’ facility which is used by lenders and debt collection companies who are trying to find a client who has stopped making payments and appears to have moved without telling them. A ‘mis-trace’ occurs when an organisation is searching for an individual but mistakenly traces someone with the same or similar name. When the results of a trace are provided to a lender they are expected to make ‘tentative’ approaches only and carry out further checks to confirm the identity of the individual as per the terms of their user agreement with the CRA.
Being linked to a debt that is not yours is not acceptable. You should contact the CRA you got your report from to tell them about this error. Each time a linked address is created, the CRA records the source of this link so they should be able to see exactly when and why this address link was created and ‘break’ any inaccurate links.
If you complain to the CRA and remain unhappy with their response or they refuse to remove the inaccurate address link you may wish to report your concerns to the ICO.
There is an entry on my credit file that I think is wrong. My broadband provider says I owe them money but I have made it clear that I am not going to pay for the month last year when their service was down. Can I have this entry amended because it is inaccurate to show that I owe them this money for a time when their service wasn’t being delivered?
The ICO cannot decide on issues outside of the DPA. In this instance, while you may consider the data to be ‘inaccurate’ because you don’t think you should have to pay for service you haven’t received, this is a service complaint which needs to be resolved before we could determine whether this information is accurately recorded on your credit file.
We may be able to look into cases where a repayment agreement is in dispute if:
- You have raised a complaint with the company and have received written confirmation that they agreed not to charge you for the period in question due to poor service.
- You are able to produce substantive evidence the company has acted wrongly. Unfortunately we cannot look into a complaint based on opinion alone.
- You have raised the issue of the dispute with the appropriate regulatory body, such as OFCOM, the Financial Ombudsman Service, or the courts, and they have upheld your complaint.
In the meantime you may wish to request that a Notice of Correction be added to the entry on your credit file. You can find more information about Notices of Correction in our Credit explained guidance.
I owed money to my credit card company and stopped making repayments because I lost my job. Because I was able to demonstrate financial hardship and the stress this was causing me, the credit card company agreed that they would stop pursuing me for this debt. However, they have refused to remove the default from my credit file. Can they do this?
The DPA requires that the information on your credit file is an accurate reflection of your credit history. While we appreciate you may want this debt removed, the fact that this debt was accrued and defaulted on is accurate. The fact that this default remains on your credit file is likely to comply with the DPA.
In situations like this, whether the entry should be recorded in some way to indicate that a debt has been settled relies heavily upon the specific agreement between you and the lender and can vary on a case-by-case basis.
If the lender agrees to accept a lower payment from you in settlement of an account we would expect them to mark the entry in a way which indicates that you are no longer being pursued for a debt. However, if a debt has not been paid off in full we do understand that the lender may be reluctant to mark a credit file as ‘satisfied’. However, where an organisation has decided to stop pursuing a debtor for payment, it would appear unfair to show that money is still owed under the account.
In these circumstances, we would generally expect an organisation to indicate the situation on an individual’s credit file, in some way. Organisations will usually mark an account as ‘partially settled’ or ‘partially satisfied’. This shows any lenders searching your file that you are no longer being pursued for the debt but also that the debt was not fully repaid.
You may also wish to add a Notice of Correction to the entry on your credit file. This allows you to write a statement explaining your situation which will be seen by anyone who looks at the entry on your credit reference file and should be taken into consideration if you apply for credit. You can find more information about how to request a Notice of Correction can in our Credit explained guidance.