Opening a basic bank account in the community

Discrimination against people with convictions

There is no specific policy of discrimination against people with previous convictions opening a bank account. It’s often that people have difficulties because of other reasons, not specifically their convictions. For example, many banks refuse applications due to:

  • Lack of ID
  • Record of fraud
  • Undischarged bankrupts
  • Poor credit rating

Overcoming the common obstacles

Lack of identification (ID)

For most people trying to open an account, the biggest problem is ID. Read our specific section on identification for opening a bank account.

‘Record of fraud’

All account providers reserve the right to reject applications from people who have a ‘record of fraud’ as a result of money laundering regulations. This does not mean anyone convicted of an offence that could be considered fraud cannot get an account. For example, banks would not usually decline an application from a person convicted of providing incorrect information when claiming benefits. Banks do not have access to criminal records, however they do have systems to detect applications from people who have a record of fraud against financial institutions, such as banks and insurers. We have a specific section covering this issue in more detail.

Undischarged bankrupts

Most banks also reserve the right to reject applications from people who are ‘undischarged bankrupts’. This is someone against whom a bankruptcy order has been made and who has not been discharged from bankruptcy (which usually happens 12 months after bankruptcy).

Poor credit rating

These days lots of people have a less than perfect credit record. This can cause problems when you apply for a standard current account because they tend to include credit facilities (like overdrafts, cheques and credit cards). Over two million people in the UK have opened basic bank accounts for this reason. They are easier to set up because most of them do not require a good credit record.

Disclosing your convictions

The bank account applications we have seen do not ask about criminal convictions and the banks do not request information about past convictions in any other way.

The banks have a system for detecting if you have convictions for defrauding financial institutions such as other banks and insurers. Other convictions do not seem to be an issue. If you are asked, convictions that are spent under the Rehabilitation of Offenders Act certainly do not have to be disclosed.

Hints & tips

Be a confident consumer

Give yourself credit – you are a potential customer! Go to the bank and ask for help. If the branch staff are unhelpful, go to the manager. If the manager is unhelpful, ask to speak to a more senior one. If that one is unhelpful, try another bank – you do not want your money with an unhelpful bank anyway.

Look for support

Ask for support from other agencies. If you have been discharged from prison, can you get into contact with your resettlement team? Do you have a Probation Officer? A letter of support from these Government employees may be accepted as a piece of ID. If you do not feel you have any support from them, are there any local charities that can help you? Many areas have a Citizens Advice Bureau (CAB) which may be able to help.

Speak to your MP

It’s amazing what a difference it can make to a bank when an MP writes to them on your behalf. It is sad to say but it’s still the case that House of Commons headed paper counts for more than your notepad.

Try an alternative

Credit unions are a fast growing, community-led alternative to the big banks. Click here for more information.