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Last Updated: Saturday, 5 March, 2005, 14:47 GMT
When a credit reference is wrong
Having a good credit history is essential to get the best value loans and other financial services, but your record could be blemished by a mistake, which can cause major difficulties.

Magnifying glass
If an error is suspected then take a close look at your record
Unbeknown to Money Box listener Norman, his previously impeccable credit history was damaged when a financial services company made a simple mistake and failed to correct its error.

Norman only discovered this when he tried to rent a flat, and was rejected after the rental agency carried out a check on him.

He was horrified to discover his record was blemished.

"It was a complete shock to me. I have never had anyone doubt my credit worthiness," he said.

All this time that's been on my record and I've been completely unaware of it
In an attempt to find out what had gone wrong, Norman carried out a check on himself through credit reference agency Equifax, and found the problem related to a loan he had taken out for a gas boiler a couple of years before.

"I found out it was First National Tricity Finance that had put a black mark on my record in April and May of 2003," he said.

"All this time that's been on my record and I've been completely unaware of it.

"I normally settle all my credit card bills in full. I've been with the same bank for 35 years. Any loans I have with the bank I pay off. It was a complete shock to me.

"I always try to be completely open and transparent in my financial dealings, so I was really very annoyed."

Decimal point

The problem occurred when the interest-free period on his loan came to an end in 2003.

An overdue credit agreements
First National Tricity reported the debt to a credit reference agency
Norman wanted to clear the debt in full. But instead of taking the full amount of 2687 from his account as instructed, First National Tricity Finance took only 26.87. A simple decimal point error.

Although the mistake was eventually rectified, First National Tricity had already reported Norman's debt to credit reference agency Equifax, where it stayed as a blemish on his records.

Neil Munroe from Equifax was in no doubt about who was responsible:

"We believe it is the responsibility of the lender in this particular case because the lender is the instigator of the actual agreement and of that data.

"So in this case it would be an obligation on them to make sure the information they provide to us is accurate and up-to-date."

Something like this hurts us just as much as the customer
Jennifer Weller, First National Tricity
When approached, First National Tricity admitted the administrative error. Its spokeswoman Jennifer Weller told the programme:

"We were very sorry and concerned to hear of this and the trouble it has caused him.

"Something like this hurts us just as much as the customer when a one-off admin error like this happens.

In order to prevent similar mistakes in future, Ms Weller said training sessions for staff have been increased, and the situation is being carefully monitored.

Resolving problems

Initially, First National Tricity wrote Norman a short letter of apology but since Money Box became involved it has offered him a goodwill gesture of 250.

Do you check your record?
Has this happened to you?
How could it be prevented?
And Norman's finally been able to rent a flat now that his credit records have been put right.

But other people's problems might not be so easily resolved.

Many larger consumer credit companies are members of the trading body, the Finance and Leasing Association. Its spokesman Ashley Holmes explained what consumers can do if they are dissatisfied:

We are able to offer a free arbitration service to consumers
Ashley Holmes, Finance and Leasing Association
"Try to sort it out yourself with the company first.

"The track record of our members is that they do try to resolve problems amicably. If that is not proving successful then contact us.

"We have a free conciliation service. If that does not work then we are able to offer a free arbitration service to consumers and that is an independent way of resolving complaints."

In future, consumers experiencing problems with credit companies will also be able to go to the Financial Ombudsman.

A change is currently going through parliament but it is at least a year away.

BBC Radio 4's Money Box was broadcast on Saturday, 5 March, 2005, at 1204 GMT.

The programme was repeated on Sunday, 6 March, 2005, at 2102 GMT.

The BBC's Sarah Parfitt
"His previously clear credit history was damaged"

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