Data Protection Commissioner

CASE STUDY 2/96 

A customer disputed his credit rating by a financial institution – issue of accuracy – the rating as understood by the institution

A customer made an access request to a financial institution and discovered that the institution had given him a rating with which he did not agree. He acknowledged that he had had some difficulties with his account, but he considered that the rating as it was explained to him by the financial institution suggested that the situation was more serious than it really was.

This financial institution uses a set of guidelines to assign ratings to its customers. I obtained a copy of these on a confidential basis. When I reviewed the facts of the complainant's case in the light of the guidelines, I took the view that the rating which had been assigned to him was not unreasonable in all the circumstances.

While I had come to the view that the rating was not incorrect, this in itself was not conclusive. Section 1 (2) of the Data Protection Act provides that data are inaccurate if they are incorrect or misleading as to any matter of fact. In other words if the information, albeit factually correct, were expressed in a way that would not be properly understood by a third party then the data controller would not have been meeting its obligations. In the event, this matter was resolved when I received an assurance from the financial institution that the ratings were solely for internal use. They would be seen only by people who also had access to the guidelines on which they were based, and were therefore in a position to interpret them correctly.

I did not uphold this complaint. Nevertheless it appeared to me that the complainant's concern sprang partly from the fact that his rating, as explained to him by the financial institution, seemed appreciably more negative than it did when seen in the context of the institution's own internal guidelines to which he did not, of course, have access. Therefore I put it to the institution that it should reconsider the explanations of these ratings which it gave to customers, with a view to making them more transparent and informative.






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