Every time you apply for credit, for example a credit card or a loan, the lender will request to see your credit history from a credit reference agency. The information they hold is so detailed that there’s really no need for us to fill out that long application form, because within a fraction of a second they can see all they need to know from Experian, Equifax or Callcredit, the three main credit reference agencies. You would be very surprised to see just how much they know about you. 

Banks, building societies and other financial institutions providing credit have been passing on details of your financial transactions to the credit agencies. Every time you apply for a credit card, every time you miss a mortgage repayment – it gets noted. They know whether you pay the minimum or the balance each month, they even know details of your credit limit on each credit card. They also look to public records, the voters’ roll and the public register of court actions because that is where all county court judgements are listed. It all happens automatically, and when your credit history is requested, the computer will provide a statistical analysis of your financial habits and provide an assessment of your suitability. It enables, the industry argues, lenders to make an accurate judgement about whether they should lend you money or not. 

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However, there is one piece of financial information that the credit agencies are not allowed to access, and that’s the student loans. Despite the industry’s remonstrations to the government, nothing has changed, and they are not allowed to access the information. The reason? Student loans constitute a debt to the taxpayer, they were not funded by commercial business. 

Before September 1998, the student loan system worked like this: once graduates were working and earning the national average, which was £15,000 at the time, they had to repay their loan on a monthly basis by direct debit. 59,000 of those pre-1998 graduates still haven’t started repaying their loan, and each has on average a debt of £2,750. 

In September 1998, the student loan system changed, and the system remains the same to this day. Now, repayments are taken directly at source, straight from the salary in the same way as national insurance and income tax. This method has been a lot more successful. 

The lending industry is not happy about the student loan situation, their main argument being that they need to know, when considering an application for credit, if the applicant has extra financial responsibilities. The introduction of top-up fees resulted in increasingly large student debts, and as the post-1998 loans have to be paid off at a rate of 9% of the graduate’s income once it has reached £15,000, it is a large portion of income to lose. 

The Association Consumer Credit Counselling Service made the following statement: “Knowing whether a young person has a student loan and whether it is being paid back, is useful.” So they are in agreement with the lenders. 

The Citizens Advice Bureau is also keen to have the information made public, because they feel that graduates could be taking on too much debt, and if lenders could see their student loans, they would ensure that graduates are not given the ability to borrow beyond their means. 

However, the Department for Education and Skills is showing no signs of wavering on its decision to keep individuals’ debts to the Student Loan Company private. 

For the foreseeable future – the situation will remain the same and student loans information will be inaccessible to the credit industry.

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