Credit reference agencies
This fact sheet covers England & Wales. We also have a version for Scotland if you need it.
Use this fact sheet to:
understand credit scoring;
deal with being turned down for credit;
work out how debts including a county court judgment (CCJ) will affect your credit report; and
challenge incorrect information on your report from the credit reference agency.
Credit reference agencies
Credit reference agencies hold information about your credit agreements (including any arrears), rent agreements, county court judgments (CCJs) 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 2018.
Most county court judgments 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 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.
Limited companies have their own credit report in the same way as an individual. If a director of a company asks to borrow money on behalf of the company, the lender is likely to check the director's personal credit report as well as the company's.
If you apply for credit, a lender may take into account several factors, such as your age, occupation and whether you are a homeowner (from the information you give them on your credit application). If you are an existing or previous customer, a lender may also look at information they already hold about you in their records. Lenders often use a process known as ‘credit scoring’ to assess this information together with the information shown on your credit report.
Are you on the electoral register?
Lenders will also take into account whether you are on the electoral register. This can be an important part of the lender deciding whether to give you credit. You can apply to go on the electoral register at any time of year. See www.gov.uk/register-to-vote or contact your local council. You should also update your details if you move house.
For credit scoring, a lender may give points to certain pieces of information and then add them up to give you a credit score. If you do not score above a particular lender’s pass level, your application for credit may be turned down. Each lender has their own policy guidelines that they follow when making lending decisions.
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 they 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.
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 TransUnion for up to 24 months.
When you guarantee a credit agreement, this means that if the person whose name the agreement is in does not pay, the creditor can ask you to pay.
The term ‘guarantor’ is used to describe someone who has signed a guarantee that they will pay if the person that borrowed the money does not.
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 county court judgment could be recorded on the guarantor's credit report.
If you are a director of a limited company, you may have given a personal guarantee for a business debt such as a business loan. In some cases if the company does not pay, your personal credit report could be affected. Contact us for advice.
Been refused credit?
If you have been refused credit, you should ask the lender which credit reference agency was used and whether the credit reference agency’s information was the reason for the decision. If it was, you may want to check what information is included in your credit report.
You can contact the credit reference agency and ask for a free copy of your credit report under the Data Protection Act 2018.
The agency will need your full name, current address, date of birth and any previous addresses that you have lived at for the past six years.
You can choose to look at your report online or have your report sent to you in the post.
If you want a copy sent in the post, you will need to fill in a form on the agency's website.
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 subscribe for free online credit reports and credit scores at ClearScore, Credit Karma and the Money Saving Expert Credit Club. They are updated monthly. Once you have registered, you can check your credit file as often as you want.
There are three main credit reference agencies - Experian, Equifax and TransUnion. 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.
If any information on your credit reference file is incorrect, you have a right to ask the agency to remove or correct the information.
Can I appeal a lender refusing me credit?
Unfortunately, there is no automatic right to credit. Some companies may 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.
Also you may be able to ask for a manual decision if the initial decision was made by computer. See the earlier section on 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.
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 TransUnion.
How long is information kept on my credit report?
The credit reference agency will leave most information on your report for at least six years. Information held by agencies includes the following.
Missed payments (arrears)
If you do not make a payment on time or pay less than your credit agreement says you should, your lender may report this to one or more of the credit reference agencies. The credit reference agency will update your credit report to show that your account is in arrears. This information stays on your credit report for six years.
Arrears can continue to be recorded on your credit report even if your lender has temporarily agreed that you can pay less than your credit agreement says you should. Although, your lender can tell the credit reference agency to add a marker to your report to show that there is an agreed payment arrangement in place.
If you are in arrears for several months, your lender may take further action and tell one or more of the credit reference agencies that your account is in ‘default’. Usually, this will not happen if you:
- have agreed a temporary payment arrangement with your lender; and
- are maintaining the payments under that arrangement.
For more information, see Defaults.
A default can be added to your credit report to show that you have broken the terms and conditions of your agreement. A default is usually reported by a lender because:
- you have missed payments under your credit agreement; and
- your lender has decided to close your account.
Although it will depend on the terms and conditions of your credit agreement, a default usually happens after you have missed between three and six months’ payments.
A default may be recorded on your credit report for other reasons, for example where:
- your supplier has taken steps to cut off a service;
- your account has been included in a form of insolvency, such as bankruptcy or an individual voluntary arrangement (IVA); or
- you have been sued for the amount in court.
Credit accounts in default will stay on your credit report for six years from the date of default.
A default reported on your credit report is not the same as a default notice issued under the Consumer Credit Act 1974.
These are deleted six years from the date the account is settled or when the last payment is made unless a ‘default’ was registered.
County court judgments (CCJs)
County court judgments are deleted six years from the date the judgment was made, whether or not they have been paid.
High court judgments (HCJs)
High court judgments are deleted six years from the date the judgment was made, whether or not they have been paid.
Special rules for some county court and high court judgments
In limited circumstances a county court or high court judgment won’t show on your credit reference file even if it is less than six years old. Contact us for advice.
Administration orders are deleted six years from the date the order was made.
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. Your credit report details can be changed to show the date your bankruptcy order ended. You will need to send proof of your discharge to each credit reference agency. Contact us for advice. 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.
Debt relief orders
Debt relief orders (DROs) are recorded on your credit report and normally deleted after six years. This can be extended if you are subject to a debt relief restrictions order (DRRO) or undertaking (DRRU). In this case, the DRO will be removed once the DRRO or DRRU ends.
Individual voluntary arrangements (IVAs)
IVAs are normally deleted after six years from the date the IVA was set up. If the IVA lasts longer than six years it will remain on your credit report until the date the IVA ends. You can ask for your credit report details to be changed to show the date the IVA was completed.
Old ‘mortgage style’ student loans 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.
Details of liability orders obtained for not paying child maintenance can be recorded on your credit report and are deleted after six years.
Details of council tax debts are not kept by credit reference agencies. This may change in the future.
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.
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.
This does not mean that your mortgage debt is written off after 6 years. Mortgage lenders may try to recover a mortgage shortfall for up to 12 years.
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 report. You can check your file in the usual way.
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).
Other people's details
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 no longer 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.
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.
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.
Credit reports will also include a ‘linked addresses’ section with details of any previous addresses that you provide when applying for a copy of your report and other addresses you have been connected to.
Notice of disassociation
There may be information on your report about people who you have no financial connection with, or no longer share a financial connection with you (for example, an ex-partner). You can write to the credit reference agencies 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 Commission for help. The address is in the Useful contacts at the end of this fact sheet.
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. Contact details for the Financial Ombudsman Service are 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 2018. 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 contact details for the Information Commissioner's Office are in Useful contacts at the end of this fact sheet.
Register of Judgments, Orders and Fines
Almost all county court and high court judgments are recorded on the Register of Judgments, Orders and Fines and kept on the register for six years.
Some magistrates’ court fines are added to the register in specific circumstances where you have not paid the fine. These will stay on the register for five years.
Penalty Charge Notices that are enforced through the County Court are not recorded on your credit report, or on the Register of Judgments, Orders and Fines.
Trust Online holds the Register of Judgments, Orders and Fines. If you are unsure whether you have any county court or high court judgments or whether the judgments are on the register, you can make a search against your name and address. You can do this online or by filling in a form and sending it to Trust Online. You will need to give Trust Online your correct name and address details and pay a fee. The contact details for Trust Online are in Useful contacts at the end of this fact sheet.
Information held on the register
The register holds limited information. It will tell you the name of the court, the date and amount of the judgment and who the judgment is against. It may also list the case number. It will not have the name of the creditor or claimant. You would need to ask the county court for this information.
Trust Online divides the register into several sections. Sections one and two cover England and Wales.
Section 1: England and Wales - county court judgments.
Section 2: England and Wales - high court judgments, administration orders, magistrates’ court fine defaults and Child Support Agency liability orders.
Sections three to seven deal with other regions, including Scotland, Republic of Ireland, Isle of Man, Jersey and Northern Ireland.
There is a scale of fees to pay for each search you make for your name and address.
To search one section, the fee is £6.
To search two sections, the fee is £8.
To search three sections or more, the fee is £10.
If you need to search for more than one name or address, you can add further details to the search. You will need to pay a further fee for each additional search. The cost for each additional search is the standard fee less 10%.
Because of the search fees, it is usually cheaper to contact a credit reference agency and check your credit report instead. Although, be aware that when you update a credit reference agency with your current address details, your existing creditors will usually also be able to see this information
Paying off a CCJ
If your judgment has been fully paid, you will need to provide evidence to the court that the full balance, including costs, has been paid (usually this would be a receipt from the organisation that took you to court). Once you have paid the judgment, the court will then notify Registry Trust who will automatically mark your entry on the register as 'satisfied'. This will then be passed on to the credit reference agencies.
If you need proof that you have paid a judgment, you can ask the court in which the judgment was made to provide you with a ‘certificate of satisfaction’. There is a small fee payable for this.
How long will my judgment stay on the register?
The judgment will still stay on the register for six years from the date of the judgment. If in the meantime you have satisfied (fully paid) the judgment, this will also be shown on the register.
The entry will only be removed if:
you pay off the debt within one month of your county court judgment being entered on the register; or
the judgment is ‘set aside’ by the court. This is only possible in very limited circumstances such as if you did not know about the judgment because you did not receive the court papers and you have a valid defence to the claim. For more information, see our Setting aside a CCJ fact sheet.
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 card and online fraud to the card issuer or lender immediately. The card issuer or lender should investigate any fraud for you and freeze the account.
Report fraudulent activity to Action Fraud. See Useful contacts at the end of this fact sheet. This ensures proper crime reporting procedures are followed. Action Fraud will issue a crime reference number and pass your details to the National Fraud Intelligence Bureau (NFIB). The NFIB will assess whether there is enough evidence to send details to the police or Trading Standards to investigate.
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 and 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 will need to contact the lenders if fraudulent applications for credit have been made in your name.
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. You can download the online application at www.cifas.org.uk.
For general advice on identity theft, check the government website www.actionfraud.police.uk.
Also see our Dealing with fraud fact sheet.
Credit repair companies
Costs for credit repair
Be careful: you may be paying a company for something you can do yourself.
You may hear 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 a copy of your credit report and how to clear county court judgments. You need to be very careful before paying a fee to a commercial company who says it can remove judgments for you. If you apply to the County Court to set aside a judgment and you do not have a good reason to do so, 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 with the FCA 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 helpline.
Action Fraud Phone: 0300 123 2040 www.actionfraud.police.uk
Citizens Advice consumer helpline
Phone: 0808 223 1133
(self help from Citizens Advice and help contacting Trading Standards).
ClearScore Phone: 0207 582 8212 www.clearscore.com
Credit Karma www.creditkarma.co.uk
Equifax Plc Customer Service 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: firstname.lastname@example.org www.fca.org.uk
Financial Ombudsman Service Phone: 0800 023 4567 or 0300 123 9123 www.financial-ombudsman.org.uk
Money Saving Expert Credit Club www.moneysavingexpert.com/creditclub
The Information Commissioner's Office Phone: 0303 123 1113 www.ico.org.uk
TransUnion TransUnion Consumer Services Team PO Box 491, Leeds, LS3 1WZ Phone: 0330 024 7574 www.transunion.co.uk
Trust Online Phone: 020 7380 0133 Email: email@example.com www.trustonline.org.uk