Coronavirus: Ex-Crewe MP Laura Smith fights credit impact

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image captionLaura Smith says she has signed up for universal credit

An unemployed former Labour MP is campaigning to stop people's credit scores being affected by deferred payments amid the coronavirus crisis.

Laura Smith, who has been out of work since losing the Crewe and Nantwich seat in December, wanted to reduce her loan payments.

However, she found this could affect her credit score.

She has appealed to the government to stop penalties for the duration of this period of uncertainty.

MP Bambos Charalambous has also written to the chancellor to call for action.

Several credit reference agencies have confirmed consumer credit scores will be protected for people who have agreed "payment holidays" as a result of the pandemic.

After December's general election, Ms Smith shared her experiences in the job centre.

The single mother, who is a councillor for Crewe South on Cheshire East Council, said she faced "challenges" from having only one household income.

media captionLaura Smith visited a job centre after losing her seat during the 2019 general election.

"I was applying for jobs and I had a final interview, then the lockdown really started ramping up, and all recruitment was stopped, or postponed, until whenever we come out of this situation, so I am kind of in limbo," she said.

"I had already signed up with universal credit, which I am really thankful for."

Ms Smith lives with her two children and her parents, who are both over 70 and therefore in the vulnerable category, which restricts her ability to volunteer or work in frontline services.

She said she began looking at the options for managing her bills and found she could make changes, but this would affect her credit score.

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"I suffered a bad mark on my credit score when I was a student and I had only recently got rid of it so I don't really want to see my credit score deteriorate over this," she said.

"So many people will be impacted."

She has started a campaign using the #StopBadCreditScores on Twitter.

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Credit reference agencies Experian, Equifax and TransUnion have said they are implementing a special measure called an "emergency payment freeze" to ensure an individual's current credit score is maintained or frozen for the duration of an agreed payment holiday.

Jonathan Westley, chief data officer at Experian, said: "These are challenging times. While everyone is rightly focused on staying safe and healthy, we know that many people are also concerned about the impact on their income.

"If you're worried about meeting regular payments because of the pandemic, it is crucial that you speak to your lenders and other providers as soon as possible so they can help."

Mr Charalambous, Labour MP for Enfield Southgate, has written to Rishi Sunak to ask that financial institutions ignore defaults during the period of uncertainty.

"I do feel this is one of the unintended consequences of Covid-19 and I don't want people to be worse off when they come out of this situation," he said.

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