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Opening an account

To open an account you’ll need to complete an application form. Banks and building societies are required by law to make sure you are who you say you are so you’ll also have to provide some personal identification. This can be:

  • Photo ID such as a valid passport or new style driving licence
  • ID without a photo such as a valid old style driving licence together with another document such as a benefits book.

If you don’t have any of these, you may be able to use other official documents such as a letter from your workplace, educational institution or care home. You’ll need to speak to the bank or building society to find out what they’ll accept.

You’ll also need proof of where you live. Most banks accept:

  • A utility bill in your name such as electricity, gas or water that is less than three months old
  • A letter from your landlord confirming where you live. If you have been in prison your probation office can provide this.

If you’d like to find out more about proving your identity, see the fact sheet from the FSA.

If you are opening an account that comes with an overdraft, the bank or building society may run a credit check. See our section on credit histories for more information.

Most of the time you need to go in person to the bank or building society with your identification. You should be able to use a private office to fill out your application form and get help from a member of staff if you need it. You may have to wait for a day or two for the bank to make a decision and they will write to you either with your new account details or a reason why they will not open an account for you.

You can apply for some accounts online but you will still need to provide identification. You’ll need to follow the instructions on the website belonging to the bank or building society you have chosen.

What happens if I get turned down for an account?
Banks and building societies don’t have to open accounts for us and there are times when people get turned down. For example, if you have a record of fraud or are an undischarged bankrupt, you may not even be able to open a basic account. If you get turned down for one account, it doesn’t mean you’ll get turned down for all accounts so try a different bank or building society. The FSA has a leaflet on basic bank accounts that has details of the different banks and building societies and who they may exclude.

Credit Unions
You may find that as an alternative to banks or building societies you can manage your money through a credit union. These are financial co-operatives, which means that they are owned and run by their members. They used to just offer savings accounts and loans to members but recently some of the larger credit unions have started offering current accounts, which come with debit cards and give access to cash machines and other facilities such as standing orders and direct debits. Some do charge a small fee for operating the accounts and most credit unions have membership conditions, such as living or working in a certain area. The Association of British Credit Unions has more information.


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