‘How NatWest destroyed my credit rating’
NatWest’s ability to upset people knows no bounds. When Times Money asked readers to respond to the question “Is NatWest the worst bank in Britain?” we expected to hear from lots of its customers. What we did not foresee was that we would be contacted by a reader who has been pursued by debt collectors and seen her credit rating destroyed because of NatWest’s blunders — and it’s not even her bank.
“I have been driven to tears and had sleepless nights over my dealings with NatWest with regard to a problem so simple that it should have been resolved on day one,” says Dorothy Lewis, from Edinburgh. “Instead, here I am, two years on, with no resolution in immediate sight. My experience more than highlights the incompetency of NatWest, and I am not even a NatWest customer.”
Her plight demonstrates the huge power that banks and the credit reference agencies, Experian, Equifax and Callcredit, hold over our financial lives. Files held by the three main agencies record people’s history of securing and paying off debt and provide a score that is used to determine eligibility for loans, mortgages, credit cards and mobile phone contracts. A black mark on your file can jeopardise mortgage, loan and credit card applications and mistakes are not always easy to correct.
Mrs Lewis was first alerted to the fact that something was amiss when she received a letter from CapQuest, a debt collection agency, in October 2012. It informed her that she owed £481.21 on a NatWest account.
“I telephoned CapQuest immediately to say that I have never had a NatWest account and that this had nothing to do with me. When CapQuest checked the details of the NatWest account, they realised that an error had probably been made and apologised,” she says.
You might have thought that would be the end of the matter, but then she received another demand, this time from NatWest saying that her details had been passed to a a second debt collection agency. This time it took several months for NatWest to admit that it had made a mistake and proffer its “sincere apologies”.
Mrs Lewis says: “This involved seven phone calls from me, four emails from me, two letters from me and three letters from NatWest. NatWest paid me £50 compensation for their error, plus £21 expenses, and assured me that my credit rating would not have been affected.”
The letter from NatWest’s customer care team read: “When data is recorded on a credit report, it is done so in line with the account number and sort code of the customers, therefore because you do not have an existing account with NatWest, it would not be possible for this to happen.”
How wrong that was. Two years on, shortly before Christmas, Mrs Lewis received an unexpected letter from Nationwide telling her that it was suspending her credit card because NatWest’s actions had, despite its assurances, damaged her credit rating.
Mrs Lewis ordered her files from the three credit reference agencies and discovered that on the reports for Callcredit and Experian, NatWest had linked the address and outstanding debt of another, completely unrelated, Dorothy Lewis to her Edinburgh address. She says: “I fail to understand how it can assume that someone with a different name and an address hundreds of miles from my own is me? The most cursory check of the electoral roll would have ascertained that I have lived at this Edinburgh address for over three decades, and the other Dorothy Lewis [who has a different middle name] has never lived here.”
Mrs Lewis asked for the erroneous information to be removed but then, compounding her frustration, in mid-January she was told by Experian that NatWest had refused to allow the entry to be deleted. A letter from the bank arrived saying that it needed to “investigate the case further”.
Now at the end of her tether, Mrs Lewis phoned NatWest. “I quoted the new case reference number I had been given by NatWest but they could find no trace of it. I then quoted my original case number from my correspondence in 2012/13. Again, no trace. The gentleman then tried my postcode and name. Nothing.”
Eventually she did find a sympathetic ear but is still waiting for the matter to be resolved. “I am having to answer every withheld call, which I usually ignore because, as a pensioner, I receive a great number of them. The wrong information is still on my Experian file and I am half expecting a letter from CallCredit within the next few days to say that they won’t be able to remove the details either.”
A NatWest spokesperson blamed her plight on a computer error. “Unfortunately Mrs Lewis’s name was temporarily linked with another account. This is not good enough and we will put this right. We have contacted Mrs Lewis to ask for her credit file. We will then speak to both her bank and the debt collection agencies to ensure their records are accurate and that there will be no further problems for her. We are very sorry for what has happened to Mrs Lewis and have offered her compensation of £1,000 by way of apology.”
Correcting a credit report
You can obtain a report from the main credit reference agencies, Experian and Equifax, for £2, while the other big agency, CallCredit, offers a free credit-checking service at noddle.co.uk. If you believe your credit report to be inaccurate or out of date, you can amend it.