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Vulnerability Registration Service features on BBC Radio Scotland to talk about financial abuse

Helen Lord, director of Vulnerability Registration Service, features on BBC Radio Scotland’s latest money podcast ‘Clever About Cash.’ The podcast focussed on financial abuse and discussed the forms it can take.

The VRS can highlight vulnerable individuals who may be suffering from financial abuse to financial organisations such as lenders and service providers.

You can listen to the full podcast ‘Clever About Cash’ on the BBC Sounds app or on iPlayer here – https://www.bbc.co.uk/programmes/p099jfgy

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One-stop partnership alerts financial service providers to bereaved and vulnerable consumers

Vulnerable consumers dealing with the death of a loved one will receive speedier and fairer treatment from financial service providers following a new partnership by two free nationwide services.

The tie-up between the Vulnerability Registration Service and newly launched end-of-life account closure service Settld, creates a stress-free ‘one-stop’ vulnerability and bereavement facility, which will help banks, utilities, insurers and other service providers to better identify those in difficulty.

The link-up follows recent guidance from the Financial Conduct Authority which aims to improve the way firms treat vulnerable customers and ensure better understanding of the needs of those experiencing negative life events, such as the death of a loved one.

Helen Lord, Director of the Vulnerability Registration Service (VRS)
, said: “There are some great synergies between the VRS and Settld – we are both passionate about reducing unnecessary stress and unfair treatment towards those who are already suffering and may be vulnerable. Dealing with the loss of a loved one is devastating enough, but having to explain the same painful situation to multiple organisations can add significant stress. This partnership will make a real difference to those people giving them a safe place to disclose their circumstances just the one time. Through the VRS, service providers can then instantly see that a vulnerability exists for a customer, and put in place appropriate treatments.”

The Vulnerability Registration Service is a ‘not for profit’ organisation that gives people a single place to register their vulnerable status. It includes those in financial distress, perhaps because of a death in the family; those with mental health problems, at risk of financial abuse, victims of fraud and their representatives, such as those with power of attorney. The service is free for them.

When individuals use Settld’s free, online bereavement notification and account closure service, they are invited to declare whether they consider themselves in a vulnerable state – be it financial or emotional.

Under the new partnership with the VRS, their vulnerability can automatically be signalled to financial service providers. That means consumers won’t have to repeat the same difficult conversation with each company.

Settld’s CEO and co-founder Vicky Wilson
said: “When users come to Settld for help in notifying a death, and to close or transfer accounts, we make sure that they only have to say it once and we take over the rest of the process, informing service providers.

“Now that we’ve partnered with the Vulnerability Registration Service, our most vulnerable users will have their status notified to service providers immediately, with those individuals only having to say it once. This means they should receive quicker, fairer treatment from those companies. With VRS, we have created a stress-free, one-stop shop, for the most vulnerable consumers.”

Online startup Settld, removes much of the hassle associated with having to individually contact banks, insurers, mobile and broadband providers, TV subscription services and others, to inform them of the death of a friend or family member. The secure and simple service now has the added benefit of alerting companies to the vulnerability of its users.

Settld and VRS will also signpost users to each other’s websites.

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Anchor Computer Systems Provides Over 200 Lenders with Access to the Vulnerability Registration Service

Anchor Computer Systems, part of the Aryza Group has become the latest organisation to join the Vulnerability Registration Service (VRS) as a member to help its consumer lending clients better identify and support vulnerable customers.

The membership means that their Sentinel Loan Management System is now integrated with the Vulnerability Registration Service. As a result, lenders using the Sentinel Loan Management system to support their loan applications will be able to check against the database and be alerted if there is a vulnerability flag registered against a customer record during the loan origination process. This includes those that are at risk to fraud.

Paul O’Sullivan, Chief Executive Office, Anchor Computer Systems, said: “By integrating with the Vulnerability Registration Service, our lenders will now be able to better identify vulnerable customers and put in place the most appropriate steps in their underwriting process to deliver the best outcome for the customer. This provides an extra layer of protection to both lenders and consumers – enabling our lenders to meet their regulatory obligations regarding the fair treatment of vulnerable customers.”

A not-for-profit organisation, the Vulnerability Registration Service provides the UK’s first central vulnerability database. Free to use for individuals, it provides people with a single place to register their vulnerable status. It includes those in financial distress, with mental health problems, at risk of financial abuse, victims of fraud, and their representatives, such as those with power of attorney. For organisations, once they have registered as members, they can check against the database to identify where vulnerability exists in order to reduce debt, financial problems and harm amongst vulnerable customers.  

Helen Lord, Director of The Vulnerability Registration Service concluded: “We are very happy to welcome Anchor Computer Systems and for their support in helping lenders meet their regulatory requirements. We are seeing a big increase in the number of organisations joining our membership. This is great news, as the more organisations come together to share data and access our database, the more support vulnerable people will receive.”

For more information on the Vulnerability Registration Service and how organisations such as lenders, creditors, collections and utility companies can join its membership, visit: www.vulnerabilityregistrationservice.co.uk

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Vulnerability can only be addressed through better engagement and by giving those who are vulnerable a voice

Collections must to go from ‘needs unknown’ to ‘finding out at the earliest opportunity’, when it comes to vulnerability

This was the conclusion of a recent industry event, attended by 185 people from credit organisations, collections companies, debt charities and in regulatory roles.

Organised by the Vulnerability Registration Service (VRS) and supported by the Money Advice Liaison Group, the event examined the challenges and practicalities of identifying and supporting vulnerable customers in collections. Five clear messages and routes forward emerged.

1. Barriers to disclosing vulnerability can and must be addressed, in order to give vulnerable people a voice
Creating an environment where people are willing to disclose their vulnerability will be one of the most important requirements as the economy starts to see the full impact of the crisis and millions more become vulnerable. Among the biggest barriers to disclosure are: personal attitude to disclosure, the perceived consequences (most worry it will be on their credit file forever), state of mind, previous experience of disclosure to a firm and attitudes to mental health. Organisations must take steps to understand and address these barriers now, so that they can develop more effective services that support people to share their vulnerable circumstances.

2. Frontline staff need to develop a vulnerability mindset
A key part of enabling disclosure from those who are vulnerable is ensuring frontline staff have the skills and mindset to effectively engage with and support vulnerable customers. They need to be able to spot, probe and encourage disclosure of vulnerabilities, so that the right actions can be taken. They also need to help their customers understand the positive impact on them if they disclose. Charities can be a valuable resource for creating a better understanding of different types of vulnerabilities and how to engage. Credit providers should consider working with them.

3. Organisations must use the resources available to identify, at the earliest possible opportunity, those who are vulnerable
And in particular identify true vulnerability from those who simply won’t pay or are being fraudulent. This is vital so that people are treated fairly, but also to ensure that the right resources are focused on the right actions. If organisations are not equipped to do this at the earliest possible stage, then they must work with third party providers who are. Data sharing will play a key role. For example, using databases like the VRS to identify those who are actually vulnerable, as well as better engagement between creditors and debt advisors where vulnerability assessments are mutually recognised.

4. As well as disclosure, lack of awareness of schemes that help is a real problem
Many people are not aware of provisions that are in place to help them. Most are not aware that organisations might want to know about their vulnerability and that disclosing will have a positive impact on them. More proactive engagement between organisations and those who are vulnerable is needed. While this has been improving over the past year, it is likely that the ‘Breathing Space’ debt respite scheme will be the catalyst that makes it a reality, particularly if the scheme becomes creditor initiated.

4. Vulnerability for the individual does not end once ‘one’ organisation has played its role
Embedding vulnerability into organisational culture is vital and the FCA is keen to see this happen. However, one of the painful realities for vulnerable people is having to explain their circumstances over and over again to multiple organisations. It’s not a ‘one call and done’ experience. There is a need for organisations across the spectrum to work together, share data and signpost individuals towards other third party organisations that can continue to support them further.

Helen Lord, Director of the Vulnerability Registration Service, said: “Over 17 million people accessed debt advice between March and October last year and the expectation this year is that millions more will be seeking debt advice and debt relief orders. We’ve seen the number of people putting themselves on our VRS database increase over the last 12 months.

“The event highlighted a consensus about how vital it is for organisations to know who is vulnerable, that disclosure is a big challenge and that there is a desire for more collaboration across the industry.

“The fact that 185 people from across the industry who are involved in collections joined us for the event really emphasises how important addressing vulnerability is to everyone. We must work together to give vulnerable customers a voice, show them that we take them seriously and that they will be treated appropriately. Data sharing is key here to better identify vulnerable customers and doing this early on will have a big and most positive impact for the collections industry and its customers.”

The event brought together prominent speakers from the Vulnerability Registration Service, Money Advice Trust, SLL Capital, DEMSA, IE Hub and trainer Helen Pettifer – all passionate about addressing the challenges of ensuring vulnerability is identified and supported appropriately. The event kicked off with a keynote talk from Chris Fitch, Vulnerability Lead at the Money Advice Trust.

The event was organised by the Vulnerability Registration Service, a ‘not for profit’ organisation that gives people a single place to register their vulnerable status. It includes those in financial distress, with mental health problems, at risk of financial abuse, victims of fraud and their representatives, such as those with power of attorney. The service is free for them. For organisations, once they have registered as members, they can start checking current and prospective customers against the database to identify where vulnerability exists. The database is agile and adaptable, enabling organisations to implement it easily and start using quickly This allows them to put in place the appropriate action and ensure the fair treatment of those vulnerable customers – helping to reduce debt, financial problems and harm. The cost for them is small, while the benefits are wide ranging.

You can watch the full ‘Supporting & Identifying Vulnerable Customers in Collections’ webinar on demand by visiting https://youtu.be/96LP8hR8ukQ

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Insolvency-Tech Platform Cerebreon Signs up to the Vulnerability Registration Service

Cerebreon, a leading data insights platform in the insolvency tech market, has joined the Vulnerability Registration Service as a member to enhance their existing vulnerability algorithms and rapidly identify individuals that need additional support in the debt process.

With unsecured debt reaching record highs and Covid-19 causing increasing levels of financial distress, Cerebreon’s partnership with the Vulnerability Registration Service is the next stage in developing the 360o view of the consumer.

This perspective helps Cerebreon identify those consumers likely to miss their repayments so that preventative action can be taken. The best outcome can be achieved for vulnerable consumers whilst protecting debt industry clients’ incomes in a time when predictability is key for sustaining business.

Gillian Doyle, CEO of Cerebreon, said: “Checking for vulnerability should be as normal to the financial services industry just as anti-money-laundering and credit checks are. This is much more than a regulatory issue – by signing up to the Vulnerability Registration Service, we are helping our own customers to rapidly identify additional vulnerabilities outside of financial distress so that the right resource, skill set or solution can be matched to the specific needs of the consumer.”

She went on to say, “Our clients are exceptional at giving advice, but the time needed to fully understand the consumer’s situation is substantial and costly. Adding the Vulnerability Registration Service to our platform reduces this time so that they can more effectively spend the time on resolution to achieve the best outcome for all stakeholders.”

A not-for-profit organisation, the Vulnerability Registration Service provides the UK’s first central vulnerability database. As a member, Cerebreon will be able to check against the database and be alerted if there is a vulnerability flag registered against a customer record.

These flags provide an extra layer of protection to ensure that Cerebreon clients, including debt advice agencies and creditors, can instantly understand if a vulnerability exists for a consumer. With increasing volumes of calls and help required for over-indebted consumers, these insights are extremely important to minimise compliance risks for the firms and bring an individual bespoke quality to a volume situation.

Helen Lord, Director of The Vulnerability Registration Service concluded: “Financial services firms often want to do the right thing when it comes to protecting their most vulnerable customers but don’t always have the means to identify them. Through the use of the Vulnerability Registration Service, this challenge is easily overcome, and it is great to have Cerebreon on-board and take such a strong stance in helping the insolvency and debt industry meet their vulnerability obligations.”

Vulnerable people, including those in financial distress, with mental health problems, at risk of financial abuse, victims of fraud, their representatives such as those with power of attorney can register for free with the Vulnerability Registration Service to make financial services providers and other organisations aware of their current financial or personal vulnerable circumstances.

The Vulnerability Registration Service is urging more financial services organisations, utilities and collection agencies to join its membership and further details can be found at www.vulnerabilityregistrationservice.co.uk

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Financial Conduct Authority Portfolio letter for debt purchase, debt collection and debt administrator firms.

Are you doing enough to identify and protect vulnerable customers?

The Financial Conduct Authority (FCA) published its Portfolio letter for debt purchase, debt collection and debt administrator firms on the 18th January identifying drivers of harm and how firms should mitigate risks. It highlights the major concern that firms can fail to recognise and address the needs and challenges faced by vulnerable consumers. The Vulnerability Registration Service (VRS) is a tool that can help organisations identify vulnerable customers allowing them to determine how they can obtain the same fair outcomes as other consumers.

The FCA aims to publish its final Guidance on the fair treatment of vulnerable customers early this year and, subsequently, firms’ compliance in this area will be monitored. Are you prepared?

How can the Vulnerability Registration Service help?

We help debt purchase, debt collection, debt administrators and other financial services organisations to identify and help ensure the fair treatment of vulnerable customers. This helps to reduce the risk of regulatory fines, bad debt and reputational damage and also helps to protect the vulnerable customer from harm and further bad debt.

VRS is a simple data sharing model that enables firms to identify vulnerable customers and therefore allows them to be treated appropriately. We draw our information from self-registrations and people who have the authority to register someone else (e.g. Power of Attorney). We work with local authorities, solicitors and estate management companies source Court of Protection Orders where a lack of mental capacity means that an individual is not in a position to manage their own financial affairs.

The VRS is reciprocal and allows firms to provide us with information about their own vulnerable customers, where there is a legal basis to do so. This means that customers can also be treated fairly by other companies where they have a relationship, and companies can benefit from the information provided by third parties.

VRS gives the opportunity to share more detail about vulnerability through a flag system. The detail is provided consensually and shows where people are affected by severe financial difficulty, physical disability, mental capacity, lifestyle events such as bereavement or divorce. We also show where people have accessibility issues e.g. internet. We have introduced a flag so that people can highlight when they have been directly impacted by the pandemic.

Checking whether customers are in a vulnerable situation through VRS is simple and low-cost. It is relevant at key points in collections – at the point of default, prior to legal action and enforcement and when debt is passed to a debt collection agency and beyond.

Access to VRS is not technically onerous and does not incur significant development costs.

We deploy API technology and security and compliance are integral to the functionality of our service. We are also able to work with companies to batch run customer bases against the VRS to show any matches. Checking whether the people you are dealing with are registered as vulnerable on our database is an easy process. It is a tool to help identify vulnerable people that is readily available and enables you to take a proactive step to handling vulnerability responsibly.

For details of how you could work with the Vulnerability Registration Service to identify your vulnerable customers, help meet your obligations, and ensure fair treatment, please contact Helen Lord helen@vregservice.co.uk

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How to identify exactly who is vulnerable

We all know that need to treat vulnerable people in an appropriate way, we know that we have a corporate responsibility to do so. We also know that the regulators expect us to take the right approach. The challenge is often how to identify exactly who is vulnerable. The Vulnerability Registration Service holds a database of people who are vulnerable and there are no barriers in the way to stop organisations checking against it.

The pandemic has plunged many more people into vulnerable situations completely unexpectedly. It has also exacerbated the difficult circumstances people were already in. It has put another complexion on the nature of vulnerability – that may be increasing reliance on digital communication, furlough, redundancy, reduced pay, reliance on others and the need to isolate.

Vulnerability touches all aspects of our lives whether that be rental or mortgage, health, insurance, banking, utilities or our mobile phones. All of these are now essential to our everyday lives and difficult personal situations can impact upon all of them. One area guaranteed to compound these difficulties is the knowledge that we are in debt and that we are being targeted to repay that debt so it is crucial that the handling of this is managed as sensitively and case-appropriately as possible.

One of the main problems that people cite, when they are facing difficulties, is the need to repeat their circumstances, highlighting the fact that they are in a vulnerable situation again and again. VRS is designed to alert companies to vulnerability, minimising that the need for people to repeat themselves and possibly having to navigate their way through call centres or websites in order to speak to the right people.

Registering information with VRS is completely free and so it gives the opportunity to help protect your customers when they are dealing with other companies. If a customer is in a vulnerable position, where the right authority is given, companies can work with them to get them added to the VRS database and therefore alert other organisations to their situation.

VRS gives people the opportunity to provide more detail about their vulnerability through a flag system. The detail is provided consensually and shows where people are affected by severe financial difficulty, physical disability, mental capacity, lifestyle events such as bereavement or divorce. We also show where people have accessibility issues eg internet. We have introduced a flag so that people can highlight when they have been directly impacted by the pandemic.

People can self-register on the VRS and companies can work with them to register or, where a Power of Attorney is in place, somebody can register on their behalf. We hold Court of Protection Orders sourced from local authorities – these orders are recorded where there is a mental capacity issue and their finances are not being managed directly by themselves. The information is wholly relevant to companies who may have a relationship with these individuals.

Checking whether customers are in a vulnerable situation through VRS is simple and low-cost. It is relevant at key points in collections – at the point of default, prior to legal action and enforcement and when debt is passed to a debt collection agency and beyond.

Access to VRS is not technically onerous and does not incur significant development costs. We deploy API technology and security and compliance are integral to the functionality of our service. We are also able to work with companies to batch run customer bases against the VRS to show any matches. Checking whether the people you are dealing with are registered as vulnerable on our database is an easy process, a tool to help identify vulnerable people is readily available and it is a proactive step to handling vulnerability responsibly.

For details of how to work with the Vulnerability Registration Service and to make sure that you are taking advantage of a means to identify your vulnerable customers, please contact Helen Lord helen@vregservice.co.uk.

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5 Tips to help save for Christmas

It’s about this time of year when the shops start showing the first signs of Christmas on the way – and for many of us, that can mean a familiar sinking feeling as we wonder where we’re going to get the money from to cover all the presents, parties and other costs that the festive season brings. If you face Christmas with a sense of dread rather than excitement, then hopefully these tips will help.

1) Set a budget

It’s a good idea to know how much you can afford, before you start spending. That way you can avoid any nasty surprises when you check your bank balance!

And if the amount isn’t as much as you’d like – it’s better to know this in advance so you can tweak your plans to fit your budget and avoid creating unwanted debt.

2) Start early

Rather than leaving your Christmas savings to the last minute, start putting a little aside each month so that by the time the festive season comes around you already have some money to dip into.

If you’re really organised, you might even buy your gifts throughout the year, which brings the added bonus of being able to avoid all the queues of last-minute shoppers in December!

3) Consider alternatives to paid gifts

Sometimes, the most thoughtful gifts aren’t the expensive ones you buy in shops. Get creative and think about what you can give people that won’t cost you a penny (or at least may cost you less).

Perhaps a night of babysitting or cleaning someone’s home for them?

Do you have any specific talents or skills that you could turn into wonderful presents for people? Maybe you could create a piece of art or some delicious homemade biscuits or jam.

4) Shop around for the best deals

Whether it’s Christmas presents, food, drink or other festive items, prices can differ hugely so make sure you do your research to get the best deals available. Keep an eye out for special offers – lots of shops have them in the lead up to Christmas.

5) Make use of charity shops

Try browsing your local charity shops. They can be a wonderful place to find beautiful and unusual presents, Christmas party clothes and even decorations and tableware.

As well as saving money, you’ll be supporting a good cause – and isn’t that what Christmas is all about?

Lastly, if you’d like more ideas on how to get ready for Christmas this year then do come and join our Facebook group, Master Your Money and Your Mental Health. It’s a great place to swap tips and get some money saving inspiration.

Have you registered with the VRS?

Christmas can be a particularly difficult time for anyone in a financially vulnerable situation. If that’s you, then don’t forget you can register with the Vulnerability Registration Service (VRS). Our service is there to protect and support people during times in their lives when they’re financially vulnerable. By registering, you can let companies who use the VRS know about your circumstances so that they can treat you and your information accordingly.

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5 Tips to improve your credit score

If you saw our recent post about credit score myths, you’ll know that you don’t actually have just one universal credit score. In fact, lenders will have their own different scoring criteria for each of their products.

Of course, there are things you can do to ensure that when you do apply for credit, your score will be as high as possible.

1) Find out what your score is

Firstly, it helps to know what your score actually is! Each of the Credit Reference Agencies (CRA’s) have a service which allows you to see an example score based on the information in your credit report. It’s a great idea to check these scores as well as your reports. This way, you can check the information that’s being recorded about you and make sure it’s all correct.

For further information, you can visit the websites for each of the UK’s CRA’s here:

2) Register on the Electoral Roll

Not many people know this, but the electoral roll is used to help calculate your score. If you’re not registered, it’s likely to have a negative impact and lower your score.

This might seem strange, but companies use the electoral roll to help them to verify your identity. When you don’t appear it’s harder for them to do this and so they’re more likely to decline your application.

If you’re not registered, don’t worry – it’s really simple to get yourself added. You can learn more here.

3) Close accounts you’re not using

The amount of credit that you have available to you can also impact your credit score. That means things like credit card limits or overdrafts – even if you haven’t used them!

If you have an account such as a catalogue or credit card with a limit that’s bigger than your needs or that you’re just not using at all, then it’s a good idea to contact the company to reduce your limit or close your account.

4) Make payments on time

When you think of your credit score as a reflection of how you’re managing your existing credit accounts, it’s not surprising to hear that when you make late payments, it’s likely to have a negative impact on your score.

Late payments are recorded on your credit report – and before long, too many late payments can turn into a default, a county court judgment and even bankruptcy.

Get into good habits now to maintain a healthy credit history. Where possible, set up direct debits so that payments are always made on time.

5) Don’t make too many applications for credit at once

When you apply for credit, a search is recorded on your credit report – but lenders can’t see if that search resulted in you getting credit or not. If you’ve made lots of applications over a short period of time, lenders will see this as a potential risk because you might already be over-committed. It can also be a sign that you’re struggling to live within your means.

Are you financially vulnerable right now?

Our service is there to protect and support people during times in their lives when they’re financially vulnerable. By registering, you can let companies who use the VRS know about your circumstances so that they can treat you and your information accordingly.

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5 Credit Score Myths

If you’ve ever applied for credit, whether it’s a mortgage, credit card, loan or even a store card, then there’s a very good chance that the company you were applying to, did a credit search on you. This simply means that they’re checking your credit history to see if you’re going to be a reliable customer who is likely to make repayments on time.

In this post, we’re busting a few of the myths and misinformation out there about credit scores, so you can see exactly how yours works – and how you can improve it.

Myth #1: The “blacklist”
Good news! There is no list of people who have been ‘blacklisted’ for credit.

When you apply for credit, the lender will take into account all sorts of information to help them decide whether to accept or decline your application. The ultimate decision will lie with the lender and will be based on a number of factors, such as their own lending criteria, your personal details, such as your income and your credit history. While you may be declined for one product, it doesn’t necessarily mean you’ll be declined for another.

Myth #2: You can pay to get information removed
Unfortunately, there are unscrupulous people and companies out there who will tell you that they can have information such as defaults or county court judgments removed from your credit report – for a fee of course.

Tempting as that may sound, the truth is that information can’t be removed from your credit report unless it’s found to be incorrect.

Most information will remain on your report for 6 years.

Myth #3: You have one, universal credit score
People often refer to their ‘credit score’ like it’s one score that all lenders will see when they do a credit search.

In fact, each lender has their own scoring system which is set up to score against their specific lending criteria.

It’s possible to check your score with each of the Credit Reference Agencies (CRA’s) – and they will give you an idea of what type of score you might expect when you apply for credit, but it’s important to remember that this number can and will vary from lender to lender.

Myth #4: Credit Reference Agencies decide whether you get credit
When you apply to a lender and they do a credit check – it might look like the Credit Reference Agency are the ones deciding whether it’s a ‘yes’ or ‘no’.

In fact, they’re just sharing factual information about your credit history. The lenders themselves use this information to give you a score and that score is what decides whether they accept or decline your application.

Myth #5: If you have lots of debt, you’ll have a poor credit score

The amount of debt you have can have an impact on your score. Especially, if along with all the other information you’ve provided it appears that you might already be overcommitted and so might struggle to make your repayments.

However, if you have a manageable amount of debt that you are repaying on time and in accordance with your contract, this will generally have a positive impact on your score.

Are you financially vulnerable right now?

Our service is there to protect and support people during times in their lives when they’re financially vulnerable. By registering, you can let companies who use the VRS know about your circumstances so that they can treat you and your information accordingly.

Register here

For further information, you can visit the websites for each of the UK’s CRA’s here:

Experian
Equifax
TransUnion

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