As landlords, it’s important for us to protect our investments from the minute a potential tenant wants to sign the tenancy agreement. Gathering background information about a tenant is a good way to help make a decision about whether they’re the right person for your property – whether the rent will always be paid, the property will remain in good condition, and that they’re dealing with a person of good character. A range of checks can be run to ascertain these, including getting character references, proof of employment status from a company, and of course, a credit history check on the potential tenant to validate their financial status. This article focuses on credit checking.
How much does it cost?
At the time of writing, you can expect to pay around £10 for a credit reference check on a tenant. There are quite a few reputable companies which specialise in detailed checking and referencing for tenants and will provide different levels of detail in the report they send you. If you’re a private landlord, and not using an agency to manage the property, it’s up to you to decide which information level is most appropriate.
Do I need my tenant’s permission?
Landlords must ask all tenants for permission, in writing, to carry out a credit check. A tenant can refuse the landlord’s request, but that refusal may well arouse suspicion, and a refusal to proceed with the tenancy by the landlord.
If there is to be more than one tenant listed on the tenancy agreement, a separate check should be carried out on each tenant individually.
What sort of information will these checks reveal?
You will not be given information like the potential tenant’s current bank balance, recent transactions or their credit limit. It won’t show any current credit agreements such as mobile phone contracts or how many credit cards they have. It’s a lower level of information than that which is available to financial institutions such as banks or credit reference agencies.
What you can expect to see is information such as any previous CCJs or insolvencies. It should also provide previous addresses and any aliases used. Information is drawn from the electoral rolls, The Register of Judgments, Orders and Fines and the insolvency register.
Can a tenant provide their own credit check?
Yes, a tenant can apply for and show you a copy of their own credit check, ideally through a credit reference agency you recognise. It is up to you whether you accept this, or insist on running your own checks. Yourself or your tenant can also get a free check at Experian in under 5 minutes.
What if the credit check is bad?
If the results reveal that the person is not likely to be a reliable tenant, you’re within your rights to refuse to proceed with the tenancy. After all, you want to rent your property to someone who will be reliable and honest. While you don’t have to tell the potential tenant why you’re declining them, it might be helpful for them to know that their credit check is what let them down. They can then take steps to clean up their credit record. After all, there may be some genuine errors on their credit file which they could clear up before applying for another tenancy.
Do I need to credit check a guarantor?
Absolutely, if you’re allowing your tenant to have a rent guarantor. The guarantor is putting themselves forward as someone who would pay the rent if the tenant could not, so you need to know that they could afford it just as much as you need to know the potential tenant could. Again, you will need to ask their permission, just as you would with your tenant.
Despite the best efforts of landlords, there continue to be bad tenants who flit from one home to another with no intention or ability to pay their rent. Landlords, particularly private landlords who are responsible for checking tenant references themselves, frequently find themselves suffering financially as a result of these people. It really is worth paying the small fee for a credit check before proceeding to sign the tenancy agreement and enjoying peace of mind.