/ Money

Why can it be so hard to open a bank account?


Banks have an obligation to crack down on fraud and prevent their accounts being used by scammers. But tight regulations mean opening an account can be tricky if you don’t have proof of address or are new to the UK. Do you think it could be easier or are the precautions justified?

When you move countries, there are challenges you expect – finding a place to live, immigration paperwork, even potential language barriers (including the discovery that ‘pants’ does not necessarily mean trousers in the UK).

But when I moved to the UK from Australia last year, I wasn’t expecting the biggest challenge to be something as mundane as opening a bank account.

For thousands of people – migrants, but also the elderly, young people or people in unconventional living situations – providing the paperwork necessary to open an account can be a significant hurdle.

To do so, you need identity documents and proof of address.

Caution on the part of banks is understandable given that bank fraud and scams are rife, so it stands to reason that they need to protect innocent people by checking the identity of anyone opening an account. But in my case, providing proof of address turned opening a bank account into a two-month ordeal.

Unclear requirements

Like many new arrivals, my husband and I initially lived with generous friends when we arrived in the UK. When we called the helpline of a high street bank to ask about becoming customers, we were told to bring a letter from the homeowner as proof of our address.

But when we arrived at our appointment, the bank refused to accept this as evidence. They also refused a letter confirming our NI numbers, letters from our employers, or letters from the Home Office regarding visa documentation.

No, we would need a utility bill or a lease. Yet few landlords are willing to let to tenants who don’t have a bank account in the UK.

Access barred

For many, it’s a catch-22 situation – you need a bank account to let a property, but you need evidence of your address to open a bank account.

It’s not just migrants who might be caught out. Flat sharers may not be the person listed on the lease or paying the bills. Elderly people might move in with their children when they need care, while adults sometimes move back in with their parents.

If you’re in these circumstances, you might struggle to switch to a new bank provider or to change your address – especially if you aren’t able to go into the local branch.

A new app called Monese promises to allow customers to open a UK bank account without a UK address or credit history. But you should be aware that using it won’t give you access to the Financial Services Compensation Scheme (FSCS) protection if the company goes bust.

When the process gets frustrating, it’s worth keeping in mind how damaging fraud can be. In some cases, scammers have used stolen identities to open bank accounts and transfer stolen funds, or ruin their victims’ credit. So while regulations make it harder for some people to open an account, they may actually be protecting the public more broadly.

Ultimately, it worked out for us: we found a letting agent who would accept an overseas bank transfer and we found a bank willing to accept our lease as evidence.

Have you also had difficulty opening a bank account? Do you think UK bank regulations do enough to protect consumers, while still helping people access their services?


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This country has its own banking regulations and non-resident EU people can open UK bank accounts. I expect non-residents can in the USA, but not sure. We have had a lot of discussion about banking fraud, scammers, misdirected payments to accounts that are then emptied, so we should in one way be grateful that opening an account is dealt with seriously. Their is the consequent penalty of inconvenience.

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I am not sure that considering what happens in the USA is getting us any closer to helping people from outside the EU coming to work in the UK and needing to open a bank account so they can rent accommodation. My own take on Stefanie’s story was that the bank was being over-zealous in rejecting several forms of official documentation and relying only on the stock requirements of a photo identification document [e.g. a passport] as well as a utility bill. This latter item is almost impossible to provide as a new arrival in this country and is becoming increasingly difficult for UK citizens now that so many people have paperless billing or are living under their parents’ roof or in other arrangements, as the Intro stated.

I agree that the banks must have tight procedures before letting anybody open an account, but thinking back to the extensive Conversations about bank fraud, and in particular the on-line scams, it seems that it was perfectly possible for criminals to set up false bank accounts to receive diverted money. Obviously the banks are now trying to shut the stable door after the horse has bolted but not making a very good job of it. I think they need to come up with a workable but nonetheless secure procedure, possibly involving a legal deposition and a commissioner of oaths. It might also be sensible to set up collaborative arrangements with the applicant’s bank in their previous country for authentication and possibly involve the relevant high commissions or embassies at each end. With virtually instantaneous and encrypted data transfers it should be possible to construct a secure process against which the bank could obtain insurance cover or make its own provision in the event of default. This would come at a cost, of course, which could be subject to regulatory approval to prevent it becoming disproportionate to the risk and work involved or becoming extortionate.

jesuscrhist says:
26 October 2018

even I as an EU citizen i am not able to open a standard bank account, really their system is such a big load of ****, they are not able to offer protection to the customerS? how come other countries survive without this un necessary bull
**** crap.

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Documents can be forged and career scammers will have the resources to obtain them.

Although banks need to do thorough checks on potential customers, it will be the innocent who suffer most.

Much better to put a stop on withdrawing money from new or dormant accounts for at least a couple of weeks so scammers cannot withdraw stolen funds quickly and give scam victims a chance to recover their money.

I can see it being a problem for many since paperless billing has been introduced. Council Tax bills seem like an obvious solution as you get them as soon as you move into a house, but if you can’t rent a house with cash that could be a problem too. Students who live in halls of residence would also struggle as they have no bills. Some banks will accept government letters, TV License or even insurance documents but there needs to be consistency between banks and reasonable systems put in place for new and returning residents.

T Dabbs says:
18 February 2018

So what happens to a teenager, who has never been abroad (no passport), has never learnt to drive (no driving licence) and lives with their parents (no utility bills) and is studying (no NI number). Stuffed!!!

Also stuffed is the householder who draws water from a well, has solar panels, buys their heating fuel from the coal merchant, and only has a mobile phone.

I refuse to give up having paper bills for water and a paper bank statement every month just so I can prove I live where I say I do.

I had to exchange my old green driving licence for a photocard one when my address changed, but the benefit is that I now have photo ID. My passport expired a few years ago and all I had at the time was a bus pass. When buying a house I had to pop into a bank to get them to provide a printed statement because they would not accept what I printed or turned up on my laptop.

It’s worth getting a passport even if there is no immediate intention to go abroad. Mind you, the teenager might have difficulty in finding somebody in the designated categories who could authenticate the application, but a director of studies or other senior person at the place of learning might be acceptable.

I do not know if it is still possible to get a National Insurance number even if not working but that used to be the case.

Are all babies still allocated an NHS number and medical record at birth? It used to be on a card but is probably computerised now and presumably available in document form. If registered with a GP there is a paper document to confirm name, address, date of birth, and practice where registered. A doctor can sign a passport application form if they know the patient [and for a fee].

The banks could be more innovative in finding practical ways for people to open an account without compromising security. Criminal record checks might be a good place to start.

why is it the government is happy for anybody to spend their life savings on lottery tickets etc and then get into poverty but when you want to act responsively and save for your old age it is virtually impossible. There are so many hurdles to opening a new bank account so I have to stay with the bank that offers naff interest rates as others want me to send off the original driving licence or other proof of ID. I’m not happy to send it to somebody I do not know. Pure madness .

I don’t know how much people spend on lottery tickets but I reckon I’ve saved a fair bit by never having bought one. If I want to support a charity I can do that directly and complete a Gift Aid form.

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This comment was removed at the request of the user

I am having trouble also with opening a new account, as an American recently moved to UK as spouse of UK citizen. And I do have proof of ID and proof of address. The staff at the local branch were very kind, and mystified why the application was refused. They were given no answer. I am not employed, but my US credit was exceptionally good, so that can’t be the excuse. I just don’t know what to do. How can I transfer my money over from the US with no bank account here?

Hi Deirdre,

Our Money Helpline should be able to assist you with this: https://www.which.co.uk/about-which/our-products-and-services/271/which-money-helpline



I expect you are too honest and upright, Deirdre. Criminals have no problems opening bank accounts here for receiving fraudulent money transfers.

I wonder if the Duchess of Sussex has had any difficulties in this respect. It is a British custom that Americans can still write to the monarchy if they are having any problems with their personal arrangements when they come to live here, so why not send her an e-mail? – She seems to have more time on her hands now.

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