How credit reference agencies, lenders and other companies work together

When you apply for credit – such as a credit card, loan or mortgage – credit reference agencies and the company offering credit join forces to gather important information about you. This can help you get the credit deals you want.

What is a credit reference agency?

A credit reference agency (CRA) is an independent organisation that securely holds data about you – including things like your credit applications, accounts, and financial behaviour. There are three main credit reference agencies in the UK. Experian is one of the largest, and we provide the UK’s most trusted credit score*.

*Most trusted’ based on 46% of 995 respondents. ICM Unlimited survey May 2020.

What we do – and what we don’t do

Experian’s role as a CRA can involve:

  • Collecting and holding people’s credit information and other relevant data
  • Using this information to help companies and their customers
  • Ensuring your data is accurate, up-to-date and fraud-free

In addition, Experian can:

Here’s what our role doesn’t involve:

  • We don’t make any actual lending decisions (i.e. we don’t approve or refuse you credit)
  • We aren’t told which applications are successful or refused
  • We don’t know why you may have been refused credit
  • We don’t hold a blacklist of people or properties
  • We don’t hold information about people's race, religion, sexuality, political beliefs or medical history

What information do credit reference agencies hold?

Here are some examples of the data CRAs may hold on you:

  • Your name, current address and previous addresses from the past six years
  • Whether you’re registered on the electoral roll
  • How many accounts you’ve had in the past six years, and when you opened them
  • Your regular payments, including any missed or late payments
  • How much credit is available to you, and how much of it you use
  • Who you’re financially associated with (e.g. someone you have a joint mortgage with)
  • Whether you’ve had a default, CCJ, IVA or bankruptcy in the past six years

A CRA collects information securely from public records (e.g. the Individual Insolvency Register) and the various companies you have a relationship with. This can include banks, credit card providers, utility suppliers and even mobile phone companies. Note that some companies don’t share details about their customers with all three CRAs, and they may share different types of data too.

You can see what data we hold on you by checking your Experian Credit Report. The information on your report gets refreshed every 4-6 weeks when we get updates from companies.

What can lenders and other companies see on my credit report?

It depends what kind of company is accessing your report, and why. For example, if a company does a soft search of your report, they’ll see less information than if they did a hard search.

Note that companies don’t always need your consent to do a search on you, but they must have a legitimate reason for doing so (e.g. you’ve applied for a loan with them).

One thing that companies never see are the names of your current and past lenders. They also can’t see soft credit searches on your report – when you look at your own credit report, you’ll see all searches that have been made.

Who decides if I’m approved for credit?

A CRA provides the data companies need – but it’s always the company that decides whether to accept or refuse your application. They make this decision by looking at data from various sources, such as:

  • Your application form, which may give information about your job and wages for example
  • The company’s own data, if you've been their customer before
  • Public records, such as the electoral roll
  • Information on your credit report, held by a credit reference agency

Companies use this information to work out your credit score – each company may use a different method, so your score can vary between them. However, you can get an idea of how companies may see you by checking your free Experian Credit Score.

It's up to the company to decide what its criteria are, and who to accept. If you get refused credit, it’s best to ask the company why, as only they know the reason.

Why is my credit score different on different websites?

Just like lenders and other companies, CRAs may calculate your score in different ways or using different information. So, there isn’t a single, universal credit score.

The Experian Credit Score is the UK’s most trusted rating* – a good Experian Credit Score is likely to mean you have a good credit score with companies. It’s based on information in your Experian Credit Report, and runs from 0-999. The higher it is, the better your chances of getting credit at the best rates.

*Most trusted based on 46% of 995 respondents. ICM Unlimited survey May 2020.

How credit reference agencies can help you

Without credit reference agencies, companies might have to painstakingly collect information about you each time you made a credit application. This could take a long time, and may also create the risk of fraudulent applications, or miss vital information about your credit history.

CRAs also help people understand their credit history and improve their credit score. The information we collect can show companies that you’re reliable, responsible and likely to keep up with your repayments. This can help you get the credit you want.

And finally, Experian can help you understand your eligibility for credit deals. This helps you get an idea of your chances of approval before you apply.