Consumers are complaining that they cannot easily access free copies of their credit reports. Queries rolled in after Money ran a story recently about the new regime that came into effect in March, where monthly payment histories on loans and credit cards will be shown and reports will note any missed payments of more than 14 days.

Before March, credit reports, which credit agencies provide to lenders when they check on applicants, held only negative information, such as missed payments of more than 60 days and bankruptcies.

Credit agencies have to make available to consumers a free copy of their credit reports at least once a year. But readers have contacted Money saying they were unable to find the free reports. More than 2 million people, or 13 per cent of the estimated 16 million Australians using credit, are at risk of credit default.

That includes about 600,000 people who are at “high to extreme risk” of defaulting, an analysis of credit records by credit agency Veda found. It is not surprising that consumers want to check their credit reports.

“Veda themselves are charging … for the most basic level personal subscription; where do you go for the free ones?” wrote one. “How exactly do consumers go about getting their annual free credit reports from credit agencies?”, wrote another.

Veda wants people to buy its subscription services, which includes speedy dispatch of the report, email alerts when specific changes occur on the consumers’ credit file and the credit score.

On the Veda web pages the paid reports are usually advertised heavily at the top of the pages. A red-coloured button on the Veda pages for the “Free File” is towards the bottom of the pages, just below another red button labelled “Buy Now”.

A spokesperson for Veda, which is the market leader, holding more credit files on individuals than competitors, says it has made improvements to make it more accessible for consumers, such as increasing the size and dominance of the “Free File” button and using the same application form for consumers wanting to access the free or the paid credit report.

Previously, the free option required more identification documents than the paid credit report.

The spokesperson says more than 110,000 people have obtained a free report from Veda during the last 12 months. Getting a free report without internet access is difficult. The Credit Reporting Code requires the free report to be as available and easy to identify and access as a paid report.

Veda allows the paid copy of the credit report to be obtained over the phone, but directs the caller to the website for the free copy. Rival credit agency Dun & Bradstreet, on its website, gives equal weighting to the free report alongside its paid-for reports.

And on the website of the other major credit agency, Experian, the link to obtain a free credit report is clearly shown on the home page.

Experian does not appear to provide a paid report. Privacy Commissioner Timothy Pilgrim says access credit reports should be provided on the “same terms”, regardless of whether the person is using the free or paid service.

“I have been very clear about my views on this and have written to credit reporting bodies outlining that I expect their websites to provide clear, easy-to-understand and prominent notices to individuals” on how they access their free reports.

Katherine Lane, the principal solicitor at the Financial Rights Legal Centre, says: “People need to know about their credit reports; it is their right.” Consumer advocacy groups, including the Financial Rights Legal Centre, have lodged complaints about Veda with the privacy commissioner.

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Posted by John Collett – The Age on 19th October, 2014