Opening a bank account

Find out what you have to do to open a bank account and what your rights are.

Opening an account with a bank or building society should be a simple process.

Banks and building societies have agreed to make it as straightforward as possible. However, it pays to know what you have to do and what your options are, if there is a problem.

Proving your identity

When you apply to open a bank account, you will have to prove your identity. Usually, you will also have to prove your address.

The bank should tell you what ID you need to provide, such as a passport, driving licence, statement or bill from a utility company, or a document confirming rental or ownership of a property.

If you cannot provide the documents the bank requires, you can ask if it will consider other documents in certain situations, such as

  • if you are claiming benefit, an entitlement letter or identity confirmation issued by the government or a local authority
  • a letter from a care home manager or warden of sheltered accommodation or a refuge
  • a letter from the warden of a homeless shelter
  • a letter from a probation officer or a hostel manager
  • a letter from a prison governor
  • if you are a traveller, a letter from the local authority that verifies your address
  • if you are an international student, a passport or European Economic Area National Identity Card and letter of acceptance or of introduction from a body on the Department for Education list, or
  • if you are an asylum seeker, an application registration card

A bank does not have to accept these other forms of ID, but if it does not, you should ask the bank to explain why. You can complain to the bank if you are not happy with the way it deals with this. Find out more about how to complain.

A bank or building society will also check that you have not been refused permission to remain in the UK. If you have been refused leave to remain, you will not be able to open a new current account or add your name to an existing account.

If you think you have been wrongly refused a current account on these grounds, you can check the Home Office website, which has more information

If you are concerned that a bank or building society is not making the checks it needs to under this immigration legislation, you can contact us.

Checking your financial history

A bank may want to look at what other accounts you have and your record of borrowing and repaying money. This check will be done on what is known as a credit report.

While this helps a bank understand your financial history, if there are too many checks on your credit report it may affect your future applications. 

Ask the bank whether and how it will be checking your credit report as part of the application process.

Bank account checklist

When you open an account, the bank must give you the main details of how it will work, usually in the terms and conditions. If you are unsure about any of these details you should ask your bank for more information.

Interest rate

A bank must tell you the rate of interest on your account, and how and when it will be calculated.

Charges and fees

All charges and fees for the normal running of the account must be clearly set out – it is not enough for your bank to refer you to a website or posters in the branch.

Details of transactions

Your bank has to give you details of each transaction to and from your account. Depending on the type of account you have, you should be able to keep an eye on it with a passbook, monthly statement, online banking, telephone banking or mobile banking.

Making and receiving payments

You may be able to make payments through a card, online banking, telephone banking and/or mobile banking. Your bank must explain how to use each of the available payment options and keep them secure.

A bank must also be clear about what you have to do to authorise a payment. This might be a signature, online authorisation or PIN.

Basic bank accounts

If you are ineligible to open a standard bank account you will generally be able to open a basic bank account. 

A basic bank account will not include an overdraft facility, but must allow you to:

  • pay money in
  • withdraw money
  • set up direct debits and credit transfers
  • make card payments (in shops and online)

Basic bank accounts are offered by a number of banks and building societies in the UK. A list of those that are required by regulation to offer these accounts for free (apart from fees for using it abroad) can be found on the HM Treasury website.

Other banks may offer basic bank accounts, but they may not include all the features of those listed by the Treasury, or they may include charges.

Full information about access to basic bank accounts and eligibility requirements can be found on the MoneyHelper website

Making a complaint

A bank must tell you how you can complain if you have a problem, and its process for dealing with complaints. But there are four simple steps you can usually follow. Find out more about how to complain.

Claiming compensation

The Financial Services Compensation Scheme (FSCS) can pay compensation if a bank, building society or credit union is unable to pay claims against it. The deposit protection limit is £85,000 for eligible depositors.

Depositors with some types of temporary high balances have FSCS protection up to £1m for up to 6 months from the date the account is first credited with the money.

You can check our tables of the main deposit-taking banking and building society brands to see whether your money is held with a brand that shares its authorisation.

If you are not sure how your money is protected you should ask your bank for more information.

Page updates

12/08/2021: Information changed Money Advice Service to MoneyHelper