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Tag: Banking

Opening a basic bank account and understanding the role of prepaid cards

Life without a bank account can be difficult, if not impossible. A bank account can offer so much more than just a place to store our money. From paying direct debits or utility bills, or receiving a salary or benefits, to simply identifying you as someone who exists, bank accounts are a huge part of a person’s life.

Research suggests that between one third and one half of people in prison don’t have a bank account. Opening an account either whilst in prison or upon release can be difficult, especially if you don’t have the correct ID.

However, as a result of a 9-year project run by Unlock which came to an end in 2014, the situation has improved and the majority of people in prison (or just released) will be able to open a basic bank account with a range of high-street banks.

Although this is important, it remains the case that there are a small number of people that won’t be able to open a basic bank account, perhaps due to a fraud conviction that flags up on the CIFAS database. In this situation, there are other options available.

One of those alternative options is a prepaid card. And we’ve been getting quite a few enquiries to our helpline in recent months about prepaid cards, so we thought we’d cover this in this post.

We were recently made aware of Renovare, an organisation offering to “provide you with a bespoke bank account, debit card and full banking solution to fit your needs” as well as set up mobile phone contracts, find work and access counselling for a monthly membership fee of £7.99. We understand the ‘bank account’ to be a prepaid card like the ones described above.

We have always been cautious in making sure that people try to open a basic bank account, either in prison or when they are released, before looking at alternatives such as prepaid cards.

More information

Moving on: Opening a bank account whilst your’re in prison

This month, we’ve written another article for Inside Times ‘Through the Gate’ section which focuses on opening a bank account whilst your’re in prison.

A copy of the article can be found below.

I’m currently in prison and want to open a bank account ready for when I’m released. Can I do it while still in prison?

Many people in prison don’t have a bank account. It’s a fundamental necessity of modern life and therefore resettlement; whether you’ll be going into a paid job on release or claiming JSA, you’ll need a bank account for any money to be paid into.

That’s why it’s a good idea to try and open an account before you’re released. When you open an account, bear in mind that generally:

  • You’ll need to give the prison as your address;
  • Authorised staff from the prison can inspect financial records that come into the prison;
  • You won’t be allowed to open an account which offers credit facilities;
  • You won’t be allowed to have in your possession any cheque book or debit card that is associated with the account.

With the above in mind, you should look to open a basic bank account. A basic account will allow you to have wages and benefits paid into it, will give you a debit card and will enable you to set up direct debits to pay bills. It won’t provide you with an overdraft facility.

Does your prison have a banking arrangement in place?

Back in 2005, Unlock identified that many people coming out of prison didn’t have access to a bank account and often missed out on securing employment as a result of this. Over the next 9 years, we worked with various banks and prisons to set up specific arrangements in 74 prisons to make the process of getting an account much simpler. In 2014, there were 114 prisons with links to a high street bank, and we handed over the day-to-day responsibility to the National Offender Management Service (NOMS) to sustain this work.

Speak to your personal officer or the resettlement department to find out whether there is a banking arrangement in place and whether you would be eligible to open an account. Some prisons prioritise those that are nearing the end of their sentence. If you are eligible, you should be provided with details of how you make an application.

What can you do if your prison doesn’t have an arrangement in place?

If your prison doesn’t have a specific arrangement in place, there is nothing stopping you from applying to other banks, but it can be a lot more difficult. It might help if you apply to a bank close to the prison – you can always change branch at a later date if you wish to. Ask your personal officer or resettlement department for a list of local banks.

It should be stressed that the attitude of staff can vary between banks and also branches and therefore, if you’re refused by one, don’t give up – try somewhere else.

Proving your identity whilst in prison

For many people in prison and on release, the biggest problem they face when applying to open 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 ID requirements. Most will ask you to prove your name with another piece of ID to prove your address. This can often be expensive.

As part of our banking project, we helped to overcome the problem that people with no ID face. We created an ID form which can be signed by the Governor, which will prove who you are. Further details about the form and how it is used by the prison can be found in PSI 44/2011.

Feedback on individual prisons

When we handed the banking project back to NOMS in 2014, 114 prisons had links with a high street bank and 5936 basic bank accounts had been opened for people in prison in 2013-14 alone. What began as a small charitably funded project, ultimately ended up as a national campaign which attracted significant political and media interest.

If you believe that the prison you are in does have a banking arrangement, but it’s either not being delivered or you’re not able to access it, then we’d like to hear from you as this will help us in our work to make sure people are able to open a basic bank account before release from prison.


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