From tomorrow people in the South of England will be able to check their annual credit report online for free.
The service, annualcreditreport.co.uk, which will be rolled out across the UK enables people to access the information held on them by credit reference agencies. It aims to help people check their credit record for errors - which may be stopping them getting credit - potential data theft and to understand the credit report information held about them, used by lenders, employers and other companies.
To access the report, users do not need to enter their credit or debit card number - making it easier for those consumers who are wary about using their cards online.
After entering their details, annualcreditreport will send a special code to the user's home address - confirmed by the electoral roll - allowing access to the credit file created by a credit reference agency.
Barry Stamp, Joint Managing Director of the Credit Reporting Agency, which is behind the initiative, said the idea was inspired by the Federal Trade Commission in the US that made it law for citizens to receive a free credit report. He said: "We thought it was a great idea what they were doing in the US and we decided to introduce it to the UK.
"Since 1974 everyone has had a statutory right to see what information others hold about them, but getting a credit report involved sending money in the post to a credit reference agency and if [they] were satisfied with the request sending a paper print out in return within seven working days.
"It's important that everyone can have regular and easy access to credit report information. Consumers can protect themselves from the impact of errors or to guard against the increasing threat of identity theft."
Despite fears Stamp insists that people's details will be secure using this system. "At an IT level we use encryption on all the data. We use secure premises and firewalls and other security methods to keep this system as free from abuse as possible and continue to thwart the identity thieves," he said.According to Stamp if consumers suspect they have become a victim of identity theft annualcreditreport can advise users on what steps to take plus they can send them a victim assistance kit with further information on what to do.
However, he admitted: "Identity theft is not as big a problem as the government would have you believe. According to the government £1.7 billion is lost to identity theft a year, but we believe it's more like £200 million. The figure is vastly exaggerated by the government and the most likely reason is to justify the introduction of identity cards."