You have the right to access your credit history, but in many cases you have to pay for it. It’s your information, so should it be free to look at it?
If you’ve ever been refused for credit, or you’re looking to apply for something like a mortgage or a loan in the near future, checking a credit report can give you an extremely useful insight into your finances from a lender’s point of view.
Credit reports held on you are made up of information you’ve created.
Every time you apply for a credit product - credit cards, loans, mortgages, current account overdrafts and even mobile phone contracts - your application is recorded in your credit history with at least one of the UK’s three credit reference agencies, Experian, Equifax and Callcredit.
Your open credit accounts are also on there, showing what you’ve paid and when as well as detailing any missing or late payments, fraud issues and County Court Judgments (CCJs).
So it’s your information - it’s about you and created by your activities.
But if you want to see it, you usually have to pay for a copy of a credit report.
The credit reference agencies originally made their money by recording consumers' credit information and charging lenders to access it.
But with an increase in consumer credit, there was a growing demand from consumers to access the information on credit reports.
The Consumer Credit Act 1974 legislated for this by obliging the agencies to provide statutory credit reports to consumers.
Although the three credit agencies are required by law to provide you with a copy of credit reports they hold on you when requested, they’re allowed to charge £2 for it.
In 2010, the coalition government backed an agreement between the Department for Business, Innovation and Skills and the credit reference industry to make it easier for consumers to access their credit reports.†
The agreement meant that the reports would be made available online, when previously they’d only been available by post.
“This should provide a quicker and more convenient access for consumers to their credit file and could encourage more people to check their file more regularly,” said Peter Vicary-Smith of Which?
Despite there no longer being a printing and posting cost involved, the £2 charge remained for statutory reports.
Under the agreement, victims of ID fraud and the financially vulnerable have free access to their credit reports. This includes people who are referred by a debt advice agency.
What’s more, credit reference agencies and third-party agencies frequently offer free trials and taster products, so you may be able to take a look at your credit history this way.
If you go for a product with a free trial but don’t want to continue with the service, make sure you check how to cancel and do so in good time.
When you use Gocompare.com’s credit report comparison service, free trial details are clearly displayed to help you choose the right product.
If you do decide to access a paid-for credit information service, you’ll typically receive other potentially useful features, which might include instant unlimited access to an up-to-date report, an indicative credit score and multi-agency information.
You can compare what’s on offer and choose the right product for your needs with our comparison tool.
There have been calls in the UK for free access to credit reports, although the £2 statutory report system has remained in place.
Several countries around the world have legislated for free credit reports for consumers, including Canada and New Zealand where there's free access to credit reports on demand.
Citizens of the USA, South Africa, Germany, Hong Kong and Australia can all have a free snapshot of their credit report once a year.
If more countries add free access to credit reports, this may put pressure on the government to re-examine the possibility of free credit report access for all.
Although the government hasn’t yet legislated for free credit reports, it seems the credit referencing industry itself is responding.
In 2011, the smallest of the three credit reference agencies, Callcredit, introduced a free credit report service called Noddle, which gives you a monthly snapshot of its credit report on you for free.
However, as it’s the smallest agency, it’s likely to contain less information than reports from Equifax, so if you want the full picture you’d still have to pay £2 for each of these reports.
In July 2015 a new company called ClearScore partnered with Equifax to offer free access to credit information online.
Unlike Noddle’s monthly snapshot, ClearScore’s information is continuous and the data comes from the credit reference agency most used by UK financial firms.
In September 2016, Experian became the latest credit referencing agency to offer customers instant free access to their credit score.
However, although the information is useful, it doesn’t have the same level of detail you’d find on your statutory report or on some paid-for services.
Noddle, ClearScore and Experian make their money by ‘suggesting’ credit card and loan products to you when you access their services; they're paid a commission if you choose to apply for any of these products.