Although much of the focus of Unlock’s work in prison has focused on improving access to basic banking pre-release, there are many people in prison for whom a basic bank account is not the right banking product, whether it be because of the amount of money involved, or the length of time until release.
This information provides details on two alternative options for people who fall into this group: savings accounts and credit unions.
Prison policy suggests that if you acquire a large sum of savings whilst in prison (£500 or more), then you should transfer it to an external savings account where it can accumulate interest and be ready for you to access upon release. Your prison account does have a savings sub-account but it will not pay interest and you will not be able to access any money you put in it until your release.
The prison service is in support of people in prison utilising external savings accounts, however if you don’t already have one set up they can be difficult to open from inside prison. Banks often have different application processes for setting up savings accounts, and this may stop you from opening one due to the limitations of postal banking. The best thing to do would be to write to your existing banking provider and ask them if you are able to set up a savings account with them, and if so how to go about this. It could be as simple as filling out an additional form and returning it to the bank, or it could be a lengthy process involving several types of ID and additional proof of address, it all depends on the individual banking provider’s own procedures.
If it is not possible to set one up with your existing bank then you will need to try another banking provider. Also, banks will often have several different savings accounts that offer different rates of interest, levels of access to your money, minimum deposits, and various other services and restrictions. The best thing to do would be to ask your bank for details of their accounts and advice on which would best fit your financial situation.
Credit unions are a growing alternative to the big banks. They are financial organisations that are owned and controlled by their members. Unlike a bank, which works to make money for shareholders, if you join a credit union, it is working to benefit you.
Credit unions come in all shapes and sizes and each will have a slightly different set of products. In general they offer savings and great value loans plus they are local, ethical and know what their members want. Many credit unions now offer a range of services including a current account, benefits direct, ISAs and Child Trust Funds.
Each credit union has a “common bond” which determines who can join it. This determines who can become a member of the credit union. The common bond may be for people living or working in the same area, people working for the same employer or people who belong to the same association, such as a church or trade union. You need to be aware that credit unions are still growing and it may well be that you cannot find one that you can join. If you are in a large city your chances will be a bit better.
As part of research that Unlock published in early 2013 (Unlocking Credit Unions) we found that a number of prisons had successfully partnered with local credit unions to offer savings accounts for people while in prison.