A fee-free basic bank account may be worth considering if you don’t have a bank account or can’t use or open a standard current account. You can use a fee-free basic bank account to receive money and pay bills, but it doesn’t allow you to use an overdraft. This page tells you more about whether you might qualify for a fee-free basic bank account, what documents you need to open one and how to use it.
Fee-free basic bank accounts
Fee-free basic bank accounts are designed for people who don’t have a bank account or don’t qualify for a standard current account.
This could be because you haven’t been able to build up a credit history or maybe you have a poor credit history because of money problems and want to use a fee-free basic bank account until you qualify for a standard current account again.
Fee-free basic bank accounts offer fewer services than a standard current account and you can’t use an overdraft. But you can:
- Have your wages, benefits and other income paid into your account
- Pay in money and cheques for free (as long as they’re not in a foreign currency)
- Take out money over the counter or from a cash machine
- Pay regular bills by Direct Debit or standing order
- Check account balances over the counter, at a cash machine, online or on your mobile
- Use a debit card to pay for things in shops and online
Can I open a fee-free basic bank account?
Some banks or building societies moved their existing customers who had a basic bank account in place before January 2016 onto a fee-free basic bank account or considered them for their standard current account. Check with your provider if you are unsure. You can move to another fee-free account with a different provider.
You need to be at least 16 to open a fee-free basic bank account, although for some accounts the minimum age is 18. If you’re under 18 you should also compare fee-free basic bank accounts with other young persons’ current accounts.
You don’t need to have a good credit history. Because fee-free basic bank accounts don’t allow you to go overdrawn, you don’t need to pass a credit check when you open the account (although your bank or building may still run a credit check on you).
If you’ve had money problems, including bankruptcy, a fee-free basic bank account can be a good way to help improve your credit score until you qualify to open standard current account.
You’ll have to give proof of identity and address. All banks and building societies will ask for proof of your identity and address before you can open a fee-free basic bank account.
You can open a joint fee-free basic bank account if both of you qualify to open one.
Who offers fee-free bank accounts?
Any bank or building society can offer a fee-free basic bank account, but since September 2016, the nine largest banks are required to offer them.
If you don’t have a bank account or don’t qualify to open or use a standard current account, these are the nine designated providers:
Virgin Money offers an Essential Current Account with the same features as a fee-free basic bank account but it is not required to comply with the same regulations governing the nine largest providers.
What do I need to open a fee-free basic bank account?
You can usually apply for a fee-free basic account:
- In person
- By post
- Over the phone
You will have to provide official proof of identity (ID) before you can open a fee-free basic bank account. You might also have to confirm your address.
An official proof of ID could be a:
- Passport, or
- Driving licence.
Using official letters to prove your ID and address
If you don’t have a passport or driving licence, your bank or building society might accept official letters from:
- JobCentre+, or
- Your local council
Confirming your right to benefits, including Universal Credit.
These letters should also contain proof of your address.
A letter confirming who you are and where you live from your employer, college or training provider might also be accepted by your bank or building society.
Other acceptable proof of ID and address might include a letter from a person in authority such as a:
- Social landlord
- Minister of religion
- Care home manager
- Warden of sheltered accommodation, hostel or refuge
- Armed services officer
You might have other documents to prove your ID and address if you are:
- An international student
- A migrant worker
- A refugee
- An asylum seeker
- A prisoner
- On probation
If you’re not sure what you can use to prove your ID and address take along all the documents you have.
This will help the bank or building society to decide what they will accept most easily.
Read a transcript of this video
How much does a basic bank account cost?
There are no charges for running a fee-free basic bank account and you won’t have to pay fees for Direct Debits or standing orders that fail.
But the people you owe money to may still charge you for missed payments.
You will be charged for buying things in a foreign currency or using your account when travelling abroad.
Cash machines (ATMs)
Taking out money from a cash machine at a bank, building society or Post Office in the UK is usually free.
Private cash machines, such as those found inside shops, may charge you but will ask you to agree the fee before you take out cash.
You are likely to be charged to take out cash when you’re abroad.
How to choose a basic bank account
Before you open a fee-free basic bank account:
- Check the cash machines you want to use regularly are free.
- Find out if there is a local branch of your bank or building society, or a Post Office, where you can pay in money and check your account
- Check if there a buffer zone that lets you take out a small amount, say £10, even when your account balance is low so you can still get money using a cash machine
- If you already have an account with the same bank or building society and you owe money on it (for example you’re overdrawn), could they use money in your fee-free basic bank account to pay off what you owe on your old account? If this is the case, it might make sense to open your fee-free basic bank account with a different bank or building society.
Managing your basic bank account
Once your fee-free basic bank account is open, make sure you set up Direct Debits or standing orders for regular payments for a time of the month when you know the payment will be covered, like the day after you get paid or you get a benefit payment.
Your bank or building society might cancel the payments if you regularly don’t have enough money in your account and you might be charged by the people you owe money to.
Check your balance regularly to help you make sure there’s enough money in your account to cover your spending.
To keep on top of things, you can set up text or email alerts to your mobile phone or computer that will let you know if you’re running low on money or when payments are due.
Read a transcript of this video
Read a transcript of this video
When you might be refused a basic bank account
Not everyone can open a fee-free basic bank account.
Your bank or building society will want to check you qualify before they accept your request.
They might refuse to open a new basic bank account if:
- You can’t provide proof of ID or address
- You could get another account, for example a standard current account
- You refuse a credit check (although you don’t have to pass one)
- They think you will use the account unlawfully or fraudulently
- You are threatening, abusive or violent towards staff.
If your application for a fee-free basic bank account is refused, you are entitled to ask why.
Your bank or building society should tell you the reason unless they suspect you of fraud or money laundering.
If you don’t agree with the decision and think you’re entitled to open a fee-free basic bank account, you can appeal to your bank or building society.
When your fee-free basic bank account can be closed
Your bank or building society can close your fee-free basic bank account or move you onto a standard current account if you:
- Give false or misleading information
- Open another bank account in the UK
- Regularly fail to meet the terms and conditions of the account
- Don’t use your account for more than two years
- Have used the account unlawfully or fraudulently or there are concerns you might use the account in this way
- Are threatening, abusive or violent towards staff
They must give you at least two months’ written notice, giving you time to appeal if you don’t agree.
If you want to complain about the service you have received
Mistakes can happen but there are things you and your bank or building society can do to put things right.
If you have a complaint about the service you receive, first contact your bank or building society to give them a chance to sort the problem out.
They should look into your complaint and reply within eight weeks.
If you’re not satisfied with the response, you might be able to take your complaint to the Financial Ombudsman Service to see if they can help you.
Your bank or building society must give you details of this free Ombudsman service when they reply to you.
Find out more about how to sort out money problems in Sort out a money problem or make a complaint.