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How Subject Access Requests can help you get out of debt

If you're successful, the lending company may be forced to refund you in full or in part.
Woman riding SAR (subject access request)-labelled paper airplane away from hand representing debt and final notices

How can sending a subject access request help me?

Being in debt can be a horrible weight on your shoulders, and if you’ve ever thought about getting out of it, you might have considered some of the more traditional methods - like budgeting, lowering your interest rates or contacting a debt charity.

But, there’s also another way- making an affordability complaint. And even better, using Subject Access Requests (SARs) to gather lots of evidence and make your affordability complaint hard to dismiss.

If your affordability complaint is successful, the lending company may be forced to refund you in full or in part.

What is an affordability complaint?

Before a creditor like a loan company can lend you money, they have to make sure that you can afford to pay it back in full and on time, without having to borrow more money and without causing you financial hardship.

They can do this by running an affordability check, this involves, for instance, looking at your income, your expenses and whether or not you pay your bills on time.

If a creditor lends you more money than you can afford to repay, and they didn’t do a ‘reasonable and proportionate’ check, you can make an affordability complaint against them for ‘irresponsible lending’ and ask for interest to be removed from your balance or a refund of the interest you paid.

How do I make an affordability complaint?

These are the steps you can take to send your affordability complaint:

  1. Send the lender a SAR. We’ve written a blog about how to do this and you can do this easily through Rightly. Simply go to our SAR page, choose the lender company and send your request. If you can't find the company, let us know and our customer support team will be able to help.
  2. Then, send them your complaint. With your new found evidence from your SAR, you can then find the appropriate email address to send your complaint to (this should be on your lender’s website) and send it. There's an email template that we found from the brilliant Debt Camel that we’ve slightly altered below.
  3. Then, just wait! The lender has to respond to your complaint within 8 weeks from that first email.

If you get rejected or don’t get a good offer, you can just send your complaint to the Financial Ombudsman. They will ask you for more information if they need it.

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Why do I need to send a Subject Access Request?

Last year, Sara Williams wrote a brilliant article about how sending a Subject Access Request (SAR) to a lender can be extremely helpful before making an affordability complaint.

A SAR is a written request you can send to any company, asking them to give you a copy of all the personal data they hold about you. You can send a SAR at anytime through Rightly for free.

So, if you sent a SAR to a lender, they might send you back pages of data that could prove they ignored your credit record, or they could give you copies of phone recordings ‘showing you were asked leading questions to give the “right” answers’ about your expenditure.

This is really important to do for large credit loans or guarantor loans. With payday loans (small and short term) a lender doesn’t have to make detailed affordability checks. But, with large loans the lender needs to make detailed checks, and so the data you get back in a SAR can help you prove that they didn’t.

What information should I look out for in the SAR?

The first thing to do, is organise the data you get back. We recommend doing this in date order or in different categories of information.

For example:

  • Received application form for loan £3,000 on 13/03/2020
  • Credit check on 14/03/2020
  • Consumer credit act agreement 20/03/2020
  • Phone calls 20/03/2020 - 21/05/2020

This will make it easier to spot if some things are missing, for example, ‘Why is there no copy of your application for the third top-up? No credit checks?’

The main two things to look out for are:

  1. Any time the lender failed to get accurate or detailed expenditure information from you. Maybe they never asked about some of your main kinds of expenses, or they put in too low a number for one expense, or you did, and they never double checked the information you gave them. Remember, it’s their responsibility to do thorough checks for big loans.
  2. Any inconsistencies; in the data you get back from your SAR you can look for one piece of information the lender has on you doesn’t match against something else, so the lender should have looked in more detail.

Email template

“Dear -,

I’m making an affordability complaint to you about irresponsible lending. Repaying your loans caused me financial hardship and to have to borrow more money.

You should never have given me these unaffordable loans. I am asking you to refund the interest and any charges I paid, plus statutory interest, and to delete any negative information from my credit record.

Then list any evidence you found in your SAR that shows the lender did not conduct their affordability check well. We go onto what kind of information to look out for in the next subheading!

(If you don’t already have this information) Please send me a list, showing for each loan when it was taken out, how much interest and charges you added and what I repaid – this will enable me to assess any refund you offer me.

Kind regards,”

If I escalate it to the Financial Ombudsman, what will they look for?

Just so you have an idea, if you escalate a complaint to the Financial Ombudsman Service, the questions they will be asking are:

  • Did the lender complete reasonable and proportionate checks to conclude that the borrower could repay any credit in a sustainable way?
  • If so, was a fair lending decision made?
  • If reasonable and proportionate checks weren’t carried out, what would reasonable and proportionate checks have shown?
  • And, was there a point where the lender should have realised it was increasing the borrower’s indebtedness in a way that was unsustainable and so shouldn’t have provided further credit?

Top tip: If you consider and address these questions when writing your complaint, it will be that much harder for it to be rejected.

Send a financial SAR today

Final thoughts 💭

Being in debt can cause you a lot of stress, but luckily there are some things you can do about it.

If a lender acted unfairly or unreasonably in any way when they made their affordability checks on you, and the result caused you financial hardship, you could be entitled to some kind of refund. The best way to get this refund is by sending the lender a SAR, gathering evidence of their unfair and unreasonable actions, and making an affordability complaint to them or the Financial Ombudsman.

As always, if you have any questions about this topic please do get in touch! We’d love to hear from you.

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