Aim of this page
This page is mainly designed for use when applying to open a basic bank account and is part of our information on banking. We have some general information on why you are likely to need identification and the different types that are available on our sources of identification page.
Why is this important?
For many people in prison and on release, the biggest problem when applying for a bank account is providing identification. Even if the bank is happy to open an account for you, you will still need to meet the individual bank’s identification requirements. This is usually one piece to prove your name, and a different piece to prove your address. This can sometimes be difficult (and expensive) for you to find.
- Banks have their own long lists of acceptable ID (see below). These allow them to be quite flexible, despite what some branch staff will say. They normally have this list on their website, so if you get told by a branch that they don’t accept a particular document, ask them to check their long list of ID.
- Banks have different policies. You can’t force them into accepting a particular document.
- There may well be other documents that your local bank will accept, even though they are not on the list below.
- If you’re relying on a prison or probation letter, get a copy of the Joint Money Laundering Steering Group (JMLSG) guidance (print the front cover and the relevant page) and show it to the bank.
- Banks often require at least two pieces of ID so remember that the same document cannot be used for both name and address. Some banks require more than two pieces of ID documentation.
- Don’t tall into the trap of thinking that you must spent lots of money buying a passport to prove your identity. Ask your bank branch – it may accept a benefit letter, birth certificate or probation officers letter. If you know your National Insurance number you can write to your local Tax Office. Even if you have never paid a penny in tax, it will write back to you, providing proof of address.
Proving your identity while in prison
Ideally you will be able to get standard forms of ID, (see Long list of possible ID below). If you don’t currently have any ID it is worth trying to get some.
As part of our banking project, we helped to partly overcome the ID problem by creating a special ID form, signed by the Governor, to prove who you are. This form has now been included as a template so all people in prison can use it. This ID form has been established specifically for opening basic bank accounts. It has been agreed by all of the banks through the British Bankers Association and the Joint Money Laundering Steering Group that this form can be accepted as the only form of ID when opening a basic bank account. More details on the form and how the prison should use it are contained in PSI 44/2011.
You should be able to get this PSI from the Prison Library and the ID document will need to be completed by a member of the Prison Service and signed by a Governor. The British Bankers Association has agreed on the ID document so it is officially acceptable; however when it comes to individual bank branches they can still refuse to accept your application. If the ID document is rejected as a form of ID it may be useful to respond quoting the Joint Money Laundering Steering Group (JMLSG) guidance which says that banks can accept it for a basic account. (see Banking guidance below).
Proving your identity in the community
If you have a Probation Officer, you may be able to use a letter from them as a form of ID (see the banking guidance section below). If you have been released from prison, a letter signed by the Governor (or the PSI document) will no longer be useful as it could only be used while you were at the prison address.
Otherwise, you will need to explore other ways in getting some of the forms of ID listed in the ID Guide below. For example, there may be a project in your area that helps people with convictions to get into work where they may be able to help with the cost of ID to help get a bank account for your wages to be paid into.
Banks also have their own long lists of acceptable ID. These allow them to be quite flexible, despite what some branch staff will say. Banks often require at least two pieces of ID so remember that the same document cannot be used for both name and address. Some banks may require more than two pieces of ID documentation. Please remember that different banks have different policies and nobody can force them into accepting a particular document as acceptable ID. Please also remember that there may well be other documents that your local bank will accept even though they are not on the list. If you manage to open an account with a different document please let us know so we can share this information with others.
Through the BBA (British Bankers Association) and the JMLSG (Joint Money Laundering Steering Group) the banking industry has signed up to accepting certain identity for basic bank account applicants in certain situations.
For people in prison
“It may be possible to apply standard identification procedures. Otherwise, a letter from the governor of the prison, or, if the applicant has been released, from a police or probation officer or hostel manager would normally be sufficient. See the pro forma agreed for this purpose with the National Offender Management Service and UNLOCK, attached as Annex 1-III” – This is taken from Part II of guidance from the Joint Money Laundering Steering Group, available here (see page 13)
For people on probation
“It may be possible to apply standard identification procedures. Otherwise, a letter from the customer’s probation officer, or a hostel manager, would normally be sufficient” – This is taken from Part II of guidance from the Joint Money Laundering Steering Group, available here (see page 13)
Long list of possible ID
Discuss this with others
Read and share your experiences on our online forum.
Key sections include:
Below you will find links to useful websites relating to this page. More specific details (including addresses and telephone numbers) of some of the organisations listed below can be found here.
- Financial Ombudsman – The UK’s official expert in helping individuals sort out problems with banks, insurances, pensions etc.
- ID Guide: How to prove your identity has been published by Toynbee Hall and Transact as a guide to identification. It includes 57 types of identification, what you can use them for, where to get them, how long they take to get, and how much they cost.
- Identity for bank account applications for all prisoners (PSI 44/2011)
- For practical information – More information on banking and sources of identification
- To read personal stories – You can read stories about this posted on theRecord, our online magazine, under the category banking
- To discuss this issue with others – Read and share your experiences on our online forum
- Questions – If you have any questions about this, you can contact our helpline.