In a country where millions suffer from poor credit histories, banking exclusion is a real problem. It's almost impossible to get by without a current bank account, yet there is no legal right to a bank account. If you're one of the millions of people who can't get a standard current account, perhaps due to defaults, bankruptcy, or just a lack of credit history, then a basic bank account is solution that you're looking for. Here's what you need to know about basic bank accounts.
What is a basic bank account?
Basic bank accounts are specially designed products for those with poor credit histories, or no record of credit history. They are often under-publicised by the main banks as they don't tend to make any money for the bank. Yet nearly all of the main high street banks offer a basic account.
They have been available in the UK for over a decade, aimed at supporting financial inclusion for those without a bank account. The idea is that basic bank accounts should not charge the customer for everyday transactions, and should not be able to go overdrawn.
Back in December 2014 the coalition government announced a new voluntary agreement with the 9 largest current account providers in the UK to improve basic bank accounts. These were: Barclays; Clydesdale and Yorkshire Bank; Co-operative Bank; HSBC; Lloyds Banking Group (including Halifax and Bank of Scotland brands); Nationwide; Royal Bank of Scotland (including NatWest and Ulster Bank brands); Santander; TSB.
What do I get with my basic bank account?
As the name suggests, they are ‘basic' in that many only offer a place to store, and withdraw money. You can set up direct debits and standing orders, and many packages also have online and mobile banking. You don't get interest on credit balances, a cheque book, nor an overdraft facility. The good news is that basic bank accounts do not (usually) require a full credit check (an identity check will be carried out though), and many will give you a visa debt card to make payments in store and online.
The latest crop of accounts will also have full featured apps, Apple and Google pay integration.
Who can open a basic bank account?
Basic bank accounts designed for financial inclusion, in reality they are used by people with poor credit histories, those needing a second or third account, or those just looking to do simple banking tasks. Previous defaults, county court judgements (CCJs), or bankruptcies are not normally a problem when applying for a basic bank account, but criminal convictions for fraud usually are.
What do I need to open a basic bank account?
There is no credit check when opening a basic bank account. If your banks asks to run a full credit check when applying for a basic account, the chances are that you've applied for the wrong account, or they are checking your eligibility or a regular current account. Be sure to tell them that it's a basic account that you want.
To open an account you'll at least one form of official identification such as:
- EU identity card
- UK driving licence (both the photocard and counterpart)
- Firearms certificate
- Student ID (showing date of birth and year of study)
- Senior citizens bus pass
You will also need proof of your address, usually in the form of a Council Tax bill, utility bill (e.g. gas or electric), pension or benefit award letter, or similar. Note that mobile phone bills will not be accepted.
Best basic bank accounts
The best basic bank account really depends on your requirements. That being said, we've listed our top two recommendations below.
This account is only available in branch. We like this account for it's easy set up. It accepts people with CCJs IVAs, and even undischarged bankruptcies. It's instant in that it's set up there and then in branch, with a visa debit card printed the same day. Full online and mobile banking is included, and the debit card also works overseas (though there are cheaper ways to spend abroad). The minimum age is 18, but a similar account exists for 16-17 year olds.
The Barlcays website has more information on the account, but as mentioned, you can't apply online for one.
This is another one that's applied for in branch. It's similar to the Barclay's Cash Card account, though it does take longer to set up. Online and mobile banking is included, as is a visa debit card. Minimum application age is 16. Note that those with undischarged bankruptcies will be turned down.
App based accounts (digital banks)
There's a new bread of bank account sweeping across the UK. These are app based or mobile first accounts. As you can guess they revolve around a smartphone app, so if you're the type that prefers to manage your money by phone or in branch then these won't be for you.
Although there are a huge number of accounts, so far only Atom, Starling, and Mozo have banking licences and thus are fully fledged banks will all the protection that comes with. Of the three, only the Starling and Monzo offer current accounts.
Starling was one fo the first new wave of banks to offer a full current account that you can open in a couple of minutes. It gives realtime updates and notifications about your spending, and links up with Moneybox and other apps to help you save or otherwise manage your finances. The real bonus though, is that there are no fees for spending or withdrawing cash abroad, making it our top pick debit card overseas spending.
For those looking for a basic bank account, Starling fits the bill in that there aren't any credit checks (provided you don't ask for an overdraft), yet the account is as full featured as any you'd find on the highstreet.
Like all other UK banks Starling is regulated by the FCA and has the full £85,000 UK savings safety guarantee.
There was a lot of hype surrounding Monzo when it first launched it's pre-pay card trial back in 2016. That trial has now ended, and the company has been granted a banking licence. Like Starling above, the Monzo account doesn't require a full credit (unless you want an overdraft), but otherwise operates as an other mainstream current account.
In keeping with the competition it's app has all the bells and whistles you'd expect, including realtime transaction notifications and insights into your spending.
As ever the bank is regulated by the FCA, and the current account has the full £85,000 UK savings safety guarantee.
What are the alternatives to basic bank accounts?
If you don't want a basic bank account but still need somewhere to store money, and pay bills then prepaid credit cards offer an alternative, though many charge a fee for their service. Just like basic bank accounts there are no credit checks carried out for prepaid cards, and more importantly for those that don't have sufficient ID to open a bank accounts, pre-paid cards rarely require official ID.
See our post on the best prepaid cards