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Credit where credit’s due – opening a bank account with a fraud conviction

Despite struggling to open a basic account with two high-street banks because of her conviction for fraud, Janice found the answer to her problems in the shape of her local Credit Union.

I’d been in prison for almost 4 years when I became eligible to move to open conditions.  As anybody that’s been through the system knows, it’s at this point that you can start to go on town leave, go home for a couple of days each month to re-establish links with your family and get a paid job which will hopefully better prepare you for your release.

Everything about the open prison system is designed to set you up for the future and I hadn’t been there very long before I met my personal officer. We had long discussion about my future plans including what type of work I wanted to do upon release and what I could do whilst I was still in custody. He also asked me whether I had a bank account which my wages could be paid into.

As I’d been convicted of fraud, I wasn’t sure whether I’d still be able to access my existing bank account or whether it had been closed down. My personal officer explained to me that the prison had a link to a local bank and I’d easily be able to open an account there. He suggested that as there was some uncertainty around my existing account, this might be the best option for me.

A few days later an appointment had been made for me with the bank and off I went to fill in all the necessary paperwork. It didn’t take long for the bank to contact me and tell me that they were unable to open my account. They didn’t explain the reason for this and all my personal officer could tell me was

Sometimes that happens. It might be because they know you’re in prison for fraud.”

This was a bit of a blow and, as soon as I was able to go into town for a visit, I headed off to Metro Bank to try to open an account with them. I’d heard that this was a “new kind of bank” and that opening an account with them would be “simple and hassle free”. The application process was indeed simple and I was told that my current account card would be posted to me within the next couple of days.

Two weeks later and I still hadn’t received anything from the bank and so I called in to find out what was going on. The lady I spoke to couldn’t really help but told me that a letter had been sent to me. Sure enough, a couple of days later I received a letter from the bank informing me that they were unable to open an account as there was a CIFAS (Credit Industry Fraud Avoidance System) marker against my name. I’d never come across this before but I quickly realised that it was likely to cause a problem for me in the future.

I started to do some research as to other options open to me and discovered that I might have to try opening a managed account or get a prepaid card account. It looked like there might be some costs attached to these and that really put me off.

I continued with my research and before long found the details of my local Credit Union. I’d always thought that Credit Unions just offered savings accounts so I was surprised to see that they did in fact offer a current account which gave me a visa debit card and cash back rewards. There were no credit checks and apparently anybody could open an account irrespective of their financial history.

I downloaded the application form and within a week my account was set up and I’d received my visa card. I was a bit nervous about using the card the first time thinking it might not be accepted but there was absolutely no problem at all. The Credit Union account was a great option for me and I can’t recommend them highly enough.

By Janice (name changed to protect identity)

Comment from Unlock

Unlock worked for 9 years on a banking project to improve the accessibility to basic bank accounts for people in prison (or just released). However, as Janice’s case demonstrates there can still be barriers for people with fraud convictions who have to consider alternatives to high-street providers. The options available can vary significantly and we would always encourage anybody looking to go down this route to explore carefully what’s on offer.

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Banking on a new start – advice on opening a bank account with a criminal record

Having recently opened a basic bank account, Eric sets out some tips to guide others through the process.




For anybody that’s ever been to prison, you’ll know that all the time you’re there you lose all sense of personal identity and become a number for the duration of your stay. In many ways this dehumanisation is part of the punishment where you end up feeling sub-human, a category a number of steps below a normal human being who has the normal freedoms to come and go as they please and do what they please within the restrictions of acceptable normal behaviour. A prisoner does not have these freedoms in the normal course of events and exists on an inferior level to his peers on the outside world regardless of his former social status.

Once I’d come to terms with the mental block that I had when I came out of prison I decided that the time had come to try and open a bank account so that I could start to move on with my life. I thought it would be a good idea to approach the bank that already knew my family and where my grown up daughter had a good banking relationship.

I realised that the best policy was to be totally honest with the bank and explain the problems that I’d had over the previous few years, and so I explained my situation to a young man on the telephone at my local branch and threw myself on his mercy! He was pretty positive and suggested that the best option was for me to make an appointment to go and see him with all my documentation and that he would process the account application on my behalf. I explained that I’d be happy with any type of account, even the most basic so that I could rebuild my banking history over a number of years. He agreed that could be the best bet.

And so the process began. I made the appointment and about ten days later presented myself at the bank with all the required documentation. The forms were duly completed and about a week later I received a call from the bank. Apparently a personal reference from a respected professional within the community would be of enormous help in convincing the bank that I deserved another chance. Fortunately, I’ve always had a good relationship with my doctor, so I made an appointment to see him and explained what I needed. It is to his eternal credit that having known me and my family for nearly 20 years he agreed to write the appropriate letter required by the bank.

Within a week the bank confirmed that they would be willing to offer me a basic bank account. Success! In spite of all my reservations and doubts at the beginning, I had by the power of positive thinking found a way to get a new bank account and a fresh start. My advice to all of you out there reading this is:

  • Be positive
  • Look for a bank that already has a relationship with a member of your immediate family
  • Look for support from any respected professional who has known you for a long time
  • Be completely honest and up front when you approach the bank about your recent history.

Everyone makes mistakes in life, some more than others and everyone deserves a second chance – the important thing is not to give up at the first hurdle. If you are determined to rebuild your life and put your past mistakes behind you, then you’ll find a way to overcome these problems and take the first steps back into life as a honest and hardworking member of your community.

By Eric (name changed to protect identity)


Comment from Unlock

We’ve done a lot of work to set up access to basic bank accounts for people in prison on release. Unfortunately, it’s still the case that people are released from prison without a bank account, so we have guidance on opening a bank account in the community. Although Eric was asked to provide a reference, this isn’t usually required, and we would suggest people follow Eric’s footsteps in opening a basic bank account – it’s the easiest one to open as it doesn’t come with any credit.


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  • Information – We have practical self-help information on banking
  • Discuss this issue – There are some interesting discussions related to disclosure on our online forum.

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