Consumers can now get online access to their statutory credit report from all three credit reference agencies.

The industry move is on the orders of the previous Labour government to give consumers easier access to their file as statutory reports were only available by post previously, which often took over a week to arrive (see the Government lending crackdown MSE News story).

An online report costs £2, and should allow you to view it within minutes if your ID can be verified instantly, though victims of ID fraud and the financially vulnerable can get them free. Yet there's also a loophole which gives everyone free access.

Equifax made its statutory reports available online in March, while Experian followed two weeks ago and Call Credit conformed yesterday (see the Credit Rating guide).

Update, 13 July, 12pm: We have received complaints since publication about Experian, that it does not allow instant access, despite its website indicating otherwise yesterday. We are investigating. Update, 14 July, 5pm: See the Experian admits delays MSE News story.

A statutory credit report is a snapshot of your credit file, which mainly details your debt repayment history, on the day you order it.

Get a free report instead!

While today's announcement helps consumers access their file, anyone can view their report for free by signing up to one of the three agencies' 30-day trials.

These give you access to your report throughout your membership, rather than the one-off view via the statutory report. Membership also gives you alerts and other add-ons.

However, fees for exceeding the trial period can be hefty so ensure you cancel in time if you don't need those services.

If you've already used your free trial, and want to view your credit file, the statutory report is usually the cheapest way to do so. It may also be the best option for those who think they will forget to cancel a subscription.

Why view your credit file?

When you apply for a loan, credit card, mortgage, phone or utility, companies usually check your credit file to help predict whether you're likely to repay any money owed.

If you have a record of missed payments, or if something else is wrong, you may be refused credit (or a service), or get higher-than-advertised rates.

If you view your file, you'll be able to correct any errors (see below for how to) or you'll discover how good (or bad) your record is, so you know if you've a good chance of acceptance (see the 'rejection spiral' below).

Dan Plant, money analyst, says: "Everyone should check their credit file before a big application and it has now become easier to do so."

Improve your credit record

There are a number of steps you can take to boost your credit record, including:

  • Get on the electoral roll. If you're not on it, you're unlikely to get credit. Simple.
  • Space out applications. Not just for credit but for mobile phones and other services where your credit file is checked. All can leave a 'hard footprint' on your file, which can damage your record.
  • Build a good credit history/repair past problems. Always repay debts and pay all bills on time. If you've a poor credit history or can't get credit because you have no credit history then apply for expensive credit cards. Spend a little each month, but always pay them off each month to avoid interest. After six months to a year you should start to build a decent record.
  • Marriage doesn't hurt, joint finances do. If you're 'financially linked' to someone on any product, their credit history affects yours. Avoid having a joint bank account or mortgage with someone with a patchy credit history.
  • Avoid the rejection spiral. If you're rejected once, always check if there's an error on your file before applying again.
  • Cancel unused credit cards. Access to too much credit, even if unused, can hurt. If you have an unused credit card, cancel it by contacting that firm. Simply cutting up the card is not enough.
  • Check addresses on active accounts. It's important to ensure any account listed as active (even if you don't use it) with the three credit agencies is registered to the correct address.
  • Amend errors. If you disagree with something on your file, and you can't get the company to remove it, write to the relevant agency to add what's called a 'notice of correction'. This will usually slow applications as they're then manually processed, but it can help. You can also complain to the free Financial Ombudsman Service.

Further reading/Key links

Boost credit score: Credit Rating
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