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Big brother is making your information public

The Thrifty Scot | May 03, 2007 

The government has decided to take away our rights in an effort to put a stop to debt. This can make the most pragmatic economist shake their head. Less than five months ago the Bank of England was publishing reports that claimed there was no debt mountain.

They claimed that half the population could clear their debts, except their mortgage, before the end of 2007. Then, reports were being published that made claims that the average UK consumers was using their debt to build wealth.

Now we are expected to swallow the new Big Brother position the government is taking on debt. Several changes have taken place that will make it more difficult to borrow, and reduce the chances of running from your debt.

The government's Big Brother program is simple, ‘none of your financial information is private any more.' The banks will be allowed to share your bill paying information, current loans, bank balances, and a host of other information with the Credit Reference companies. It wouldn't be so bad, if this is where the information stopped.

The banks will also be able to tell other banks how long you've lived at your home, and anything that may reflect your ability to repay a loan. Will divorce information become a part of our consumer credit information file?

A poor credit rating can mean your mortgage application is turned down, you pay higher interest rates, larger fines, and less credit options.

Citizens Advice confirmed that the bureaux regularly deals with borrowers who repay their loans, have a savings account, and pay their bills on time – but a clerk somewhere made a mistake.

Spokeswoman Moira Haynes said: "There can be things on files which customers do not agree with, or imply financial associations with other people which do not exist. We do what we can to help them get the mistakes corrected."

The government is including a new program to help, but whether it will work has yet to be seen. Adults with mistakes in their credit ratings may complain to the Financial Ombudsman and claim compensation for any losses.

Ombudsman spokesman David Cresswell said: "We will consider claims for compensation associated with what we call 'consequential loss'. So we will not simply look at the inconvenience caused by a mistake, but what the customer missed out on financially as a result of any error."

Initially, they only held information on customers who failed to pay their debts.

Soon, my employer, a clever lawyer, or even a landlord can get a hold of my credit information. Where does it end? Do I really want my ex's divorce lawyer to have a copy of my current income level?

The credit reference companies are not thrilled about the new changes. They are all stocking up on bulk migraine headache medication. People do not understand scoring. They do not understand how their credit rating is calculated.

The media is awash with stories about the new changes to the way consumer credit information is handled. The government is hoping to reduce the insolvency rate, and burden on society, by giving the banks enough information to lend wisely.

Experian spokesman James Jones said: "There are a lot of myths about what we do. Customers blame us if they get turned down for a loan, but we are not party to that decision. All we do is hold data. We hold billions of bits of data, so of course things go wrong sometimes, but it is not always our fault. Often the bank has given us the wrong information, or confused details of two different customers."

If that doesn't sound like the same answer we receive from all sectors of the financial industry when you ask why those living in poverty are forced to rely on high interest loans, or why the 30 some thing generation are carrying 30% of the nation's debt.

If my information is going to become public then I want a few new changes. A good idea would be to lay charges against everyone who gives a credit card to a teenager without their parent's knowledge. A good idea would be to fine agents who give pensioner parents a mortgage for a buy-to-let house to ‘build their wealth' with the intention of letting the younger generation inherit the mortgage.

Responsible government should be the first step, holding the public responsible should follow. Of course, we all need to control our own spending. But, logic dictates that the problem will vanish if the financial instructions are forced to face consequences for their irresponsible lending habits.

Making loan officers responsible for their actions, in the same way that real estate agents are, both with certification and legal responsibility.

This, combined with the government's new education programs should make financial life easier for the next generation.

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