Credit reference agencies and credit reports

 October 2017

Fact sheet no. 12 SCOT Credit reference agencies and credit reports

Use this fact sheet to:

  • understand credit scoring;
  • deal with being turned down for credit;
  • work out how debts will affect your credit report; and
  • challenge incorrect information on your report.

What is a credit reference agency?

Extra advice:

no blacklist

Credit reference agencies provide factual information with your consent, so that a company can make a decision about whether to lend you money. They do not have a ‘blacklist’ of people who should not be given credit.

Credit reference agencies hold information about your credit agreements (including any arrears), rent agreements, sheriff court decrees and electoral roll information. A lender or landlord can only pass on information about your agreements with your consent. You usually give this consent when you sign the agreement. Failure to obtain your consent is a breach of the Data Protection Act 1998.

Sheriff court decrees will automatically be registered and are kept on record for a period of six years. The information a credit reference agency holds about you is known as your credit report (or file).

Credit scoring

Information:

the electoral register

You can apply to go on the electoral register at any time of the year. See www.gov.uk/register-to-vote or contact your local council. You should also update your details if you move house.

When being considered for credit, a lender may take into account factors such as your age, occupation and whether you are a homeowner (the information you give them on your credit application). Lenders often assess this information and the information on your credit report using a process known as credit scoring. They will also take into account whether you are on the electoral register. This may be an important part of the lender deciding whether to give you credit.

The lender may give points to each piece of information it has and then add them up to give you a credit score. If you do not score above the particular company’s pass level then you may well be turned down. The score might take into account the information on your credit report. Each lender has their own policy guidelines that they follow when making lending decisions.

Extra advice:

computerised scoring

If the decision was made solely using a computerised scoring system you can ask the lender to look at your application again. This review should be done manually and not using an automated system. You may have to supply extra information to support your application.

Every time you apply for credit a ‘search’ by the lender is marked on your credit report. Searches stay on your file for different times depending upon which credit reference agency was used. Experian and Equifax hold search entries for 12 months and Callcredit for up to 24 months.

Ask the lender if they are using a credit score to decide whether to give you credit. If the company uses a computerised system, you should be given broad information about how credit scoring works and the type of things they have taken into account in the scoring system for that company. If you are turned down, the lender should tell you if you didn’t pass. They should also tell you if you were turned down for any other reason, for example, because of the information held on your credit report. 

Guarantors

When you guarantee a credit agreement, this means if the person whose name the agreement is in does not pay, the creditor can ask you to pay. Credit reference agencies would not normally record a credit agreement on a guarantor's credit report if payments are up to date. If payments are missed, any default or decree could be recorded on the guarantor's credit report.

What do I do if I have been refused credit?

  • If you have been refused credit, then you should ask the lender which credit reference agency was consulted and whether the credit reference agency’s information was the reason for the decision.
  • Contact the agency and ask for a copy of your credit report under the Data Protection Act 1998. They will need your full name, current address, date of birth and any previous addresses that you have lived at for the past six years.

Information:

Information Commissioner's Office (ICO)

The ICO publishes a booklet called Credit explained. If you have not yet had a copy, contact us for advice.

  • This costs £2 by letter or over the internet.
  • You can go on the credit agency website and choose to fill in a form to have your report sent to you in the post.
  • Your report should be sent to you within seven working days unless the agency needs you to send proof of your identity and address, for example, if you have moved home recently.
  • You can also choose to ask to see your report online. 
  • If the information is incorrect then you have a right to ask the agency to remove or correct the information.

There are three main credit reference agencies, Experian, Equifax and Callcredit. You should check the information held with all of these agencies. This is because the details held by individual agencies may differ. See Useful contacts at the end of this fact sheet.

Can I appeal against a lender refusing me credit?

Unfortunately, there is no automatic right to credit. Some companies are starting to provide details as to why you have been turned down, which can help you establish the reasons. 

If credit scoring was used then the company should give you broad reasons for refusing you credit.

Warning:

applications for credit

Be careful: every time you make an actual application for credit, a 'search' will show up on your credit report. It can work against you if lots of searches show up on your report. Searches are held on file for 12 months by Experian and Equifax and up to 24 months by Callcredit.

Also, you may be able to ask for a manual decision if the initial decision was made by computer. See the earlier section Credit scoring. However, you are still only legally entitled to receive the name of the specific credit reference agency the lender consulted.

You can always contact the company again if information on your credit report has changed and ask them to look at your application again. Otherwise it may be a case of shopping around for credit, making sure you are very careful to check the interest rates and terms of any loan you are offered.

When will information be removed from my report?

The credit reference agency will leave the information on your report for at least six years. Information held by agencies includes the following.

Credit accounts ‘in default’

The details are deleted six years from the date of the default.

Settled accounts

These are deleted six years from the date the account is settled or when the last payment was made unless a 'default' was registered.

Bankruptcy orders

Bankruptcy orders are normally deleted six years from the date of the bankruptcy order, unless you are subject to a bankruptcy restriction order (BRO) or undertaking (BRU) which lasts longer than six years. In this case the bankruptcy order will be removed once the BRO/BRU ends. If you have not been discharged from your bankruptcy, the bankruptcy order will remain on your credit report until it has been discharged, even if this is longer than six years.

Sheriff court decrees

These are deleted after six years from the date of the decree, whether or not they have been paid.

Trust deeds

Trust deeds are normally deleted after six years from the date the trust deed was set up.

Student loans

Old 'mortgage style' student loan details are passed onto credit reference agencies. This can happen even if you have deferred the loan or made an arrangement to pay the loan back.

Mortgage debts and secured loans

You may be in arrears with your payments but have made an arrangement to pay or have had a possession order suspended by the court. In these cases the details may not show up as a ‘default’ on your credit report as long as you keep up with the payments.

Warning:

mortgage debt

This does not mean that your mortgage debt is written off after six years. Mortgage lenders may try to recover a mortgage shortfall for up to 20 years.

Otherwise a ‘default’ may be registered by your lender.

Details will stay on the credit reference agency’s files for six years from the date the ‘default’ was registered which could be the date of a repossession order or when you handed the keys in to your lender. In some cases, details of how much you still owe will also appear on the file. This may affect your ability to get a new mortgage, especially if you still owe money to your previous lender.

Since July 2010, UK Finance no longer keeps information on people who have been repossessed or handed the keys in on their home. This information used to be kept in a mortgage possessions register and passed on to credit reference agencies. Existing information will stay on credit reference agency files.

Information on your mortgage or secured loan may still show up on your credit report. You can check your file in the usual way. 

See our fact sheet:

Mortgage shortfalls.

Your file should be marked as ‘satisfied’ if you pay the mortgage arrears off or if the sale of your house covers the outstanding debt. If you clear any mortgage shortfall, your file should also be marked as ‘satisfied’.

 

Notice of correction

You can ask the credit reference agency to put a notice on your report of up to 200 words, explaining why you got into debt or why you think information on your report is misleading. You may want to explain your financial circumstances at the time and why your situation is now different. This notice will then be seen by anyone reading your report such as a lender making a search of your credit report when you apply for credit.

Most credit decisions are made by automatic means (for instance, computer). If there is a ‘notice of correction’ on your report, your application must be referred for a manual decision (for example, a person will decide whether or not you can get credit).

Can details of other people’s credit be included in my report?

Warning:

financial connections

If you have a financial connection with someone, lenders will be able to see more information about that person on your credit report, for example their credit history and credit agreements, than you can. Your report will only say that you are linked to that person.

Credit reference agencies should not include information about other people who happen to live with you in your credit report, even if you share a surname, unless a financial connection has been created. This means other people’s credit details should not affect your credit rating.

Your credit report should only include:

  • financial information about you;
  • the name of anyone you have a financial connection with at your address (but not any financial information about that person); and
  • the date and source of the financial connection.

This means that your financial details will not appear on anyone else’s credit report unless you have a financial connection. Your report will continue to show you who has accessed your details and when this happened.

Information:

linked addresses

Credit reports will also include a ‘linked addresses’ section with details of any previous addresses that you provided when applying for a copy of your report and other addresses you have been connected to.

You will be treated as having a financial connection to someone else where a lender tells the credit reference agency:

  • you have made an application for credit in joint names;
  • a bank account or other credit product has been opened in joint names; or
  • you tell the credit reference agency that you are financially linked to someone else.

This will continue until you file a notice of disassociation to end the financial connection between you. 

Disassociation notices

There may be information on your report about people who you have no financial connection with or who no longer share a financial connection with you (for example, an ex-partner). You can write to the agency to ‘disassociate’ yourself from them explaining your reasons. You will need to fill in a form giving details about the people you want removed from your report. If any agency refuses to accept your notice you can ask the Information Commissioner's Office for help. The address is in the Useful contacts section at the end of this fact sheet.

Complaints about credit reference agencies

You have the right to complain to the Financial Ombudsman Service about how a credit reference agency has dealt with your credit file. You will have to follow the agency’s complaints procedure first. The address for the Financial Ombudsman Service is in Useful contacts at the end of this fact sheet.

You can also complain to the Information Commissioner's Office under the Data Protection Act 1998. They can look at issues such as why a lender or credit reference agency has not corrected information on your file, or where a credit reference agency has refused to add a notice of correction. The address for the Information Commissioner's Office is in Useful contacts at the end of this fact sheet.

The Scottish Register

Extra advice:

search fees

As the fees are high to search the Scottish Register, it is quicker and cheaper to contact a credit reference agency and check your credit report first. 

Almost all sheriff court decrees are recorded on the Scottish Register and kept on the register for six years.

If you are unsure whether you have any sheriff court decrees or whether the decrees are on the register, you can make a search against your name and address. You do this by filling in a form with the correct name and sending in the form with the correct fee.

        

There is a scale of fees to pay for each search for the same name. The register holds limited information. It will tell you the name of the court, the date, the amount of the decree and who the decree is against. It may also list the case number. It will not have the name of the creditor or pursuer. You would need to ask the sheriff court for this information.

The contact details for Trust Online that holds the information on the Scottish Register is in Useful contacts at the end of this fact sheet. 

Paying the order off

If your decree has been fully paid, you can ask Trust Online to mark your entry on the register as satisfied. There is a fee of £4 for this which you must send to Trust Online with evidence from the pursuer that the debt has been paid in full. Provide details of the decree such as the case number, the date of the decree, the creditor etc. Trust Online will then pass the updated information on to the credit reference agencies.

The entry will only be removed if:

  • you pay off the debt within one month of it being entered on the register; or
  • the decree is 'set aside' or recalled by the court. This is only possible in very limited circumstances, such as if you did not know about the decree because you did not receive the court papers and you have a valid defence to the claim.

Information:

how long will a decree stay on the register?

The decree will stay on the register for six years from the date of the decree. If, in the meantime, you have satisfied (fully paid) the decree, this will be shown on the register.

Victims of fraud and identity theft

If you feel you have been a victim of fraud it is important to act quickly to prevent further fraudulent transactions.

  • Report the loss or theft of any documents, cheques, plastic cards and online fraud to the card issuer or lender immediately. The card issuer or lender should investigate any fraud for you and freeze your account.
  • Report the fraudulent activity to Action Fraud. See Useful contacts at the end of this fact sheet. This ensures proper crime reporting procedures are followed. They will pass information to the Police for you who will issue a crime reference number if appropriate.
  • Contact one of the credit reference agencies to notify them of any items on your credit report you believe to be the result of fraudulent activity. The agency you contact should inform the other agencies for you.
  • The credit reference agencies should then cooperate to send you copies of your credit reports, advice on protecting yourself from identity theft and tell you who is managing your case and how to contact them.
  • The agencies should also contact lenders for you if fraudulent applications for credit have been made in your name and make sure your credit report is corrected.
  • Consider registering your details with CIFAS, the UK’s Fraud Prevention Service. For a fee, a fraud warning can be placed against your address and will be flagged up if applications are made using your address. The CIFAS marker will mean additional checks are made to ensure any application for credit is genuine. This may result in delays in your credit applications. Contact CIFAS for further information. You can download the online application at www.cifas.org.uk.

Can credit repair companies help me?

Warning:

costs of credit repair

Be careful, you may be paying a company for something that you can do yourself. 

You may have heard of companies that offer to clear your credit records with credit reference agencies to allow you to apply for more credit.

Credit repair companies may charge you a fee and often send you an information pack telling you how to get your copy of your credit report and clear sheriff court decrees.

You need to be very careful before paying a fee to a commercial company who suggests it can remove decrees for you. If you apply to the sheriff court to set aside a decree and you do not have a real reason to do so, then you could be charged costs by the court.

Credit repair companies must be authorised by the Financial Conduct Authority (FCA). Check if the company is authorised before using their services.

If you have a complaint about something a credit repair company has done from October 2008 onwards, you can ask the Financial Ombudsman Service for help.

If you are not happy with a credit repair company, complain to the local trading standards department by contacting Citizens Advice Consumer Service.

Useful contacts

Action Fraud
Phone: 0300 123 2040
www.actionfraud.police.uk

Callcredit
Consumer Services Team
PO Box 491
Leeds
LS3 1WZ
Phone: 0330 024 7574
www.callcredit.co.uk

Citizens Advice Consumer Service
Phone: 03454 040506
www.adviceguide.org.uk  
(self help from Citizens Advice and help contacting Trading Standards)

Equifax plc
Credit File Advice Centre
PO Box 10036
Leicester
LE3 4FS
Phone: 0800 014 2955
www.equifax.co.uk

Experian Ltd
Consumer Help Service
PO Box 9000
Nottingham
NG80 7WF
Phone: 0800 013 8888
www.experian.co.uk

Financial Conduct Authority
Phone: 0800 111 6768
Email: consumer.queries@fca.org.uk
www.fca.org.uk

Financial Ombudsman Service
Phone: 0800 023 4567 or 0300 123 9123
www.financial-ombudsman.org.uk

Information Commissioner's Office
Phone: 0303 123 1113
www.ico.org.uk

Trust Online
Phone: 020 7380 0133
Email: info@trustonline.org.uk
www.trustonline.org.uk