Credit Reports and Credit Reference Agencies

This factsheet explains the difference between credit reports, credit referencing agencies, credit scores and credit searches. It will detail what information is held on a credit report, how to deal with being turned down for credit, how to challenge incorrect information on your credit report and provide tips on improving your credit score.
Read time: 21 minutes

Credit reports

A credit report is a record of your financial and personal data that helps creditors confirm your identity and provides information to allow them to decide if you are responsible with credit. It includes details of open and closed credit accounts, your current and previous addresses, electoral roll information, any court judgements made against you and any people you are financially connected with.

Credit referencing agencies

Credit reports are generated by consumer credit referencing agencies. In the UK there are three main credit reference agencies – Experian, Equifax and TransUnion (formerly Callcredit). These three agencies may hold different information on your credit report, as not all creditors share the same information with all three credit referencing agencies.

A creditor is not required under Data Protection Act to report such data and can only pass information about you to the credit referencing agencies with your implicit consent. You usually give this consent when you sign the initial agreement with the creditor.

Credit scores

Your credit score is a number generated by each credit referencing agency based on the information held on your credit report, which provides a quick reference point for creditors to help decide whether they should accept your application for credit. Your credit score is calculated from your previous and current credit history and indicates what type of borrower you are and how you are likely to manage your repayments. Your credit score is a very important part of the creditor deciding whether to give you credit.

Each credit scores regardless of the credit referencing agency will be a three digit number and is accompanied by a word grading the credit score produced. These grades are: Excellent, very good, good, fair, poor and very poor.

People with a higher credit score are seen as lower risk, which means creditors are more likely to provide credit to them. It is important to remember that each creditor has different criteria for credit applications, so if you are rejected for credit by one creditor you may still meet the criteria of another. Credit applications can include bank overdrafts, loans, credit and store cards, hire purchase contracts such as mobile phones and mortgages.

Credit searches

Each time you make an application for credit a ‘search’ is marked on your credit report by the creditor. Details of credit searches stay on your credit report for different times depending on the credit reference agency. Experian and Equifax currently hold search results for 12 months and TransUnion for 24 months.

It is important to remember that too many credit searches over a short period of time can be viewed negatively by creditors. Therefore, if you are refused credit you should ask for feedback as to why you were turned down before making another application.

Information held on a credit report

The credit reference agency will have the following personal information on your credit report:

  • Your name
  • current and former addresses
  • date of birth
  • electoral roll information
  • Details of anyone you may have a financial connection with – e.g. a joint account or loan
  • Any notices of correction

Your credit report will also contain credit information added to it by your creditors from the date it was first entered for six years. This information held on your credit report is: 

  • The amount of debt you currently owe on all open accounts
  • The total amount of credit you are currently able to access on open accounts
  • Details of credit repayments – the amount paid and whether it was paid on time
  • Court judgements made against you (CCJ’s)
  • Insolvency details – e.g. Bankruptcy, Debt Relief Order, Individual Voluntary Arrangement
  • Details of credit searches – the date made and the company who requested the search
  • Details of all closed and settled accounts

Information not held on a credit report

The credit reference agency will not hold information on your credit report such as:

  • The amount of savings you have in any bank accounts
  • Your salary details entered on any credit applications
  • Student loan information
  • Parking, driving or court fine information
  • Your criminal history
  • Your medical history
  • Any housing rates arrears (unless this has been taken to a court)
  • Information about other people who happen to live with you or at your address, unless a financial connection has been created

If you are a guarantor for a debt, credit reference agencies do not normally record details of you as a guarantor on your credit report if the original borrower keeps their repayments up to date. However, if the original borrower defaults and you are pursued for the debt, the creditor would then begin to record this debt on your credit report. Any repayments you then subsequently pay or miss will be recorded on your credit report.

Notice of correction

You can ask any of the credit reference agencies to add a notice written by you to your credit report. This notice gives you a chance to explain why you got into debt, missed payments or any reasons you think information on your credit report is misleading. The notice can be up to 200 words long. This notice will be seen by any lenders searching your credit report when you apply for credit.

Most credit decisions are made automatically by computers, however If there is a notice of correction on your report, your application must be referred for a manual decision to an underwriter; therefore a person will read your notice of correction and decide whether or not you will be offered the credit.

If you need assistance at writing a notice of correction you should contact us for advice.

Financial connections

You will be treated as having a financial connection with someone else where a lender reports to a credit reference agency that:

  • you have made an application for credit in joint names with someone else; or
  • a credit product has been opened in joint names with you and someone else.

This financial connection will continue to remain on your credit report until you file a notice of disassociation to end the financial connection between you.

Notice of disassociation

If there are financial connections detailed on your credit report that you never had a financial connection with, or no longer share a financial connection with (for example, an ex-partner), you can write to the credit reference agencies to ‘disassociate’ yourself from them. To do so you must explain your reasons and depending on the credit referencing agency you may have to fill in a specific form. 

If a credit referencing agency refuses to accept your notice of disassociation you can ask the Information Commission for help. The Information Commission contact details are in the Useful contacts at the back of this factsheet or you can contact us for advice.

What to do if you are refused credit

If you have been refused credit and you do not understand why, then you should ask the lender for their reasons. If the lender indicates that a credit search or report was the reason for the decision you should ask which credit referencing agency was consulted. You can then contact this credit referencing agency and ask for a copy of your credit report under the Data Protection Act 2018. They will require your full name, current address, date of birth and any previous addresses that you have lived at for the past six years. 

Your report should be sent to you within seven working days unless the agency needs you to send proof of your identity or address. There may be a fee to obtain a copy of your credit report, and each credit referencing agency has different rules and costs for this.

Free online credit reports

You can subscribe for free credit reports and credit scores online at ClearScore, Noddle and Money Saving Expert Credit Club. They are updated monthly. Once registered, you can check your credit file as often as you want for free. However, as these services are free you should be aware that the information held on these websites may not be as accurate or up to date as the information held with the main credit reference agencies.

To find out how to contact the listed free credit report providers,  see Useful contacts section of this factsheet.

Complaining about a credit referencing agency

If you have a complaint about how a credit referencing agency has dealt with your credit file you should firstly follow the agency’s complaints procedure. If that does not resolve your complaint, you then have the right to complain to the Financial Ombudsman Service.

You can also complain to the Information Commission 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 Information Commission contact details are in the Useful contacts of this factsheet

Ways to improve your credit score

It is important to understand there is no universal credit score that a creditor is looking for when they agree to a credit application. Every lender has its own system for deciding whether to lend or not, meaning you could be rejected by one yet accepted by another. However, it is generally accepted that the higher your credit score is, the greater chance you have of approval when applying for credit. 

Some ways to improve you credit score include:

  • Check your report and correct any mistakes
  • Register to vote
  • End financial associations if they no longer exist
  • Keep your credit usage low – ideally below 50% of your agreed credit limits
  • Always maintain repayments on time
  • Never exceed your credit limits
  • Do not make multiple applications for credit in a short timescale

Companies that offer credit report repair

Credit repair companies generally charge a fee and should always be considered with caution. For this fee they will send an information pack telling you how to gain a copy of your credit report and how to clear county court judgments. Any information they provide can normally be obtained elsewhere for free and any services they state they offer will still have to be carried out by you directly to the credit referencing agencies.

Credit repair companies must be authorised by the Financial Conduct Authority. You should check if the company is authorised if you are considering using their services.   

It is important to remember that credit repair companies rarely offer any service that you cannot do yourself for free, or provide any information that you cannot source yourself for free. If you have concerns about how to carry out these tasks or access this information, contact one of our debt service advisers. 

Useful Contacts

ClearScore www.clearscore.com 

Equifax Plc
Customer Service Centre 
PO Box 10036 
Leicester
LE3 4FS


 www.equifax.co.uk
Experien Ltd
Consumer Help Service
PO Box 9000 
Nottingham 
NG80 7WF
 
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 
Money Saving Expert Credit Club
 
www.moneysavingexpert.com/creditclub 
Credit Karma  
 
www.creditkarma.co.uk
The Information Commission           
Phone: 0303 123 1113
 
www.ico.org.uk
TransUnion (previously Callcredit)       
TransUnion Consumer Services Team
PO Box 491 
Leeds 
LS3 1WZ
www.callcredit.co.uk

Money Talks Tools: 

We have gathered a selection of online tools that may help you manage your money. These tools are provided by organisations that work with Advice NI.

Did you find this factsheet useful?

Money Talks can help you manage your money. It is a free and impartial resource for people living in Northern Ireland

Need help?

Get in touch with Advice NI for help with

  • Business Debt

    free help and advice

    To speak to an adviser about Business Debt contact our FREEPHONE helpline:

    0800 083 8018

    Monday to Friday
    9am to 5pm
  • EUSS

    Free help with the EU Settlement Scheme

    To speak to an adviser about applying to the EU Settlement Scheme contact our Freephone helpline

    0800 138 6545

    Monday to Friday
    9am to 5pm
  • Money & Debt

    For help accessing FREE money and debt advice call

    0800 028 1881

    Monday to Friday
    9am to 5pm
  • Tax & Benefits

    Free help and advice

    To speak to an adviser about tax and benefits contact our FREEPHONE helpline:

    0800 988 2377

    Monday to Friday
    9am to 5pm

  • Welfare Changes

    FREE HELP AND ADVICE

    To speak to an adviser about welfare changes contact our FREEPHONE helpline:

    0808 802 0020

    Monday to Friday
    9am to 5pm

Related factsheets

Read more about

Debt management

Find out options for dealing with debt including information on Debt Relief Orders, Debt Management Plans, writing off your debts and how to get debt advice.

 

Mortgages and loans

Paying your mortgage will always be a priority payment. In this section you can learn about mortgages, housing debts and different types of loans.