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Last Updated: Wednesday, 21 April, 2004, 13:19 GMT 14:19 UK
New moves to help people who use credit
Two important changes to the way the credit industry operates have been announced.

From October 31st this year credit reference agencies will no longer take into account the bad credit rating of any relatives living at your address when deciding an application for credit.

Until now if a son, daughter or partner had run up bad debts this could affect your credit application and it could be refused.

The only exception to this will be if the debts have been run up on a joint account.

The change is a result of a campaign run by the Information Commissioner.

New guidelines

At the moment, the credit reference agencies often look at the credit history of other family members living in the applicant's household when considering a request for credit.

That means some people are turned down unfairly and that applicants see information relating to others when obtaining their own files.

Under the new guidelines, firms will not be allowed to assume there is a financial connection on the basis of a shared surname and address.

Once the new rules are introduced most lenders will look only at the credit history of the person who's applying for credit.

Experian, one of the country's biggest credit reference agencies welcomed the new rules.

Peter Brooker, from Experian, told Working Lunch,

"We're very pleased that the industry has come to an agreement and we can maintain people's privacy. From November they will no longer be able to see the private details of other people."

The National Consumer Council has welcomed the move but says there is still more that needs to be done to reform the industry,

Picture of Deirdre Hutton
Deirdre Hutton says more reform needs to be done
"It's a very good thing to treat individuals as individuals so we welcome it but actually this is a very small part of the problem," says Deirdre Hutton, the Council's Chairman

"We have six million consumers potentially in debt and they cannot act responsibly unless the industry lends responsibly.

The industry targets poor people far too often, it doesn't give them clear information and is very heavy handed in the way it treats people in debt," she added.

European legislation

In a separate move British MEPs have won a key vote in the European Parliament in a bid to protect the nation's poorest borrowers.

MEPs have approved the consumer credit directive, which will create minimum standards for people borrowing money across the EU.

But European Commission proposals to apply the directive to credit unions - small profit-sharing initiatives operated in local communities - were thrown out.

Labour MEP Arlen McCarthy has welcomed the changes
MEP Arlene McCarthy, Labour's spokesperson on legal affairs and the internal market in the European Parliament, said the vote would protect Britain's small time borrowers, who join credit unions to save money and secure low interest loans.

She said: "Credit unions are often the best defence people on low incomes have against credit rip-offs.

"To include credit unions - bodies owned and managed in the local community - in the kind of regulation proposed for major banks, credit providers and credit card companies would be to simply legislate them out of business and let spivs and loan sharks roam free on our council estates."

The Commission will now have another look at the plans.

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