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How do I build a credit history in the UK?

Dear James,

I just moved into this country and after six months of being here I tried to apply for a credit card. They turned me down without saying why? They told me to call you and ask how to build a credit rating. What is a credit rating and how can I do it. I am a resident of the UK but I do not have any income in the country. I have a company in another EU country and a couple of credit cards from abroad too. What should I do?


Ilyan, London

Dear Ilyan,

Sorry to hear about your recent card refusal, but based on what you say I'm not entirely surprised by it. In the UK, a wide range of lenders now share information about their customers through credit reference agencies like Experian. This means that most people have fairly substantial credit reports (the information we hold about your current and past credit agreements). As a result, someone who applies for credit with little or no information on their credit report is unlikely to be successful because the lender has very little on which base their decision. Most lenders use a process called credit scoring to help them decide which customers to accept based on all the information they have at their disposal. They work out your credit score (also called credit rating) by awarding points to relevant pieces of information on your application form, your credit report, and on their own records (if you've been a customer before). The points are simply based on how customers with similar details went on to repay their credit agreements. Once all your points are added up, if your total score reaches the lender's pass mark there's a good chance you'll be offered credit. Your credit score can also be used to decide your interest rate and, where appropriate, your credit limit – so it's important to do what you can to make sure you get the highest score possible. While lenders will want to see you have an income, I don't think it will matter that it isn't in the UK. Your biggest challenge is to build up the information on your credit report. Start by getting yourself on the electoral roll, which you can do as long as you're either a UK or EU citizen. This is important because lenders use this to check your name and address. You probably already have a bank account here. Once you've built up a good relationship with the bank they may grant you an overdraft facility. This will help because an overdraft is a form of credit and will add some positive information to your credit report, regardless of whether you actually use it - as long as you don't misuse it of course. You may also be able to get a mobile phone contract, although you may be asked for a deposit to start with. Again, if you use this sensibly and pay your bill in full each month, you will collect further positive information on your credit report which should support any future application you make for a credit card. If you want to monitor your progress, our CreditExpert service will help you keep track of the information on your credit report and there is currently a 30-day free trial. It is likely we will ask you to send identity documents when you first sign up because you don’t have any credit history. We will send them back as soon as we've checked them. You'll also be able to order and track your Experian Credit Score, which will help you identify when you've built a substantial enough credit report to support other credit applications.

James Sign

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