The Unbanked: A national disgrace

It’s the 21st century and the internet is a dominant, potent force yet there are still hundreds of thousands of people without bank accounts in the UK. I’ve been pondering this recently because of both the Bank Charges case and the recent Ofcom announcement and court cases regarding higher charges for not paying via Direct Debit on utility bills.

Easy MoneySaving for most

With the utility bills, the simple thing to do is pay via Direct Debit for Gas & Electricity and it’ll save you up to 10%. On Home Phone bills, use a Direct Debit and paperless billing and you’ll save there too. Yet what if you don’t have a bank account?

Our national financial structures are now built around the concept of working with those who have bank accounts. For those without, shopping on the web, making payments, having direct debits, conducting money transfers and more all becomes a nightmare.

The banks don’t help

For once I don’t blame the banks for this situation. They are, of course, commercial companies that can reject or accept customers as they please to fulfill their profitability. If we want public service banking we’d have to nationalise them. My issue with the banks is one of communication.

Most banks do offer ‘basic bank accounts’ which even those with terrible credit scores should be able to get. These were set up, as far as I’m concerned, as a sop over Government concerns that there’s a lack of bank access and to prevent legal enforcement that banks must offer basic facilities.

The problem is, that while these are available, they’re underpublicised and hardly mentioned. I’ve heard so many times of people going into a bank and saying they have a bad credit history and don’t have a current account but want to apply for one. They’re then given forms for normal accounts, which of course they’re rejected from. To get these basic bank accounts, (with the notable and commendable exceptions of Barclays and the Co-Op which I hear do it better) you need to actually ask for the specific forms.

This is exclusion via confusion and should be stopped. If these accounts are truly there to work then they should be prominently portrayed and if you do apply for a normal bank account and get rejected you should automatically be offered the basic account version.

It’s the Government’s job though

Why we try and allow the banks to self-regulate on such an important social issue I don’t know. They have nothing to gain from it, so you can’t expect them to pull out and help; it’s not what they’re there for. As part of a truly fair, modern society we should ensure everyone has access to a bank account; and that needs doing via regulation. No such regulation exists so this sham continues.

Comment and Discuss