What is a basic bank account?
Basic bank accounts are designed for people who don’t qualify for other types of current account because they have a poor credit history.
They offer basic facilities for receiving money and settling bills, without overdraft facilities.
They can be a lifeline for people who have faced financial difficulties in the past but, because they aren’t as profitable as other accounts, banks and building societies haven’t done a good job of advertising them.
The largest UK banks and building societies launched new fee-free basic bank accounts in January 2016, bringing an end to high charges for those excluded from the mainstream banking system.
We've ranked the best basic current accounts by bank customer satisfaction as voted by the general public.
New basic bank accounts have a whole suite of features that make them attractive to people who have a poor credit history, or have struggled with debit in the past. These include:
- No fees for failed payments
- No overdraft facilities
- Providers must offer you a debit card to withdraw cash and make payments in stores and online.
- They must also let you set up direct debits and standing orders.
- Deposit money and withdraw cash at any Post Office or bank branch counter, on the same terms as other personal current account customers.
Banks will review their basic accounts and may move you on to a more appropriate current account if your financial circumstances change (they must give at least two months written notice).
In the table below, we round up the main features of traditional basic bank accounts and how to open them.
|Provider||Account name||Minimum age||ATM limit||How to open the account|
Recommended providerNationwide Building Society
No telephone banking with the FlexBasic account.
|FlexBasic||78%||18||£500||Online, branch, phone|
|Metro Bank |
Along with Virgin Money, Metro Bank is not required to comply with the same basic bank account regulations as the largest providers. You can't set up direct debits or use the Post Office for basic banking services.
|Cash Account||75%||11||£300||Branch only|
|The Co-operative |
|Halifax||Basic||70%||18||£500||Online, branch, phone|
|Lloyds Bank||Basic||69%||18||£500||Online, branch, phone|
|NatWest||Foundation||69%||18||£300||Online, branch, phone|
|Yorkshire Bank||ReadyCash||69%||16||£350||Branch, phone|
|HSBC||Basic||66%||16||£300||Online, branch, phone|
|TSB||Cash Account||65%||18||£200||Online, branch|
|Bank of Scotland||Basic||64%||18||£500||Online, branch, phone|
|Clydesdale Bank||ReadyCash||63%||16||£350||Branch, phone|
|Royal Bank of Scotland||Foundation||62%||18||£300||Online, branch, phone|
|Ulster Bank||Foundation||55%||18||£300||Online, branch, phone|
Data correct at January 2020
Which? Customer Score: Our rating for customer satisfaction, based on feedback from real customers. The score is made up of a customer's overall satisfaction with the brand, and how likely they are to recommend that brand to a friend. We surveyed 4,216 members of the general public in September 2019. Our full table includes scores and star ratings for all banks.
How to open a basic bank account and other FAQs
Basic bank accounts are designed for people who don’t qualify for other types of current account, typically because they have a poor credit history.
They offer basic facilities for receiving money and settling bills, without overdraft facilities, though you qualify for a normal debit card which can be used at ATMs and online.
Here we explain how to open one and answer some of the most frequently asked questions:
How do I open a basic bank account?
You need to be at least 16 years old to open most high-street basic bank accounts, although the minimum age is 18 at others.
Check our table to see if your chosen account can be opened by post, over the phone or online.
A few providers only accept applications in person, such as Metro Bank and Virgin Money.
How do I prove my identity and address?
You'll be asked to provide photo ID i.e. a passport or driving licence.
If you don't have either of these, the bank might accept an alternative such as an original copy of a letter from HMRC or the Department of Work and Pensions.
Proof of current address can be a bank or credit card statement (less than three months old), a recent UK utility bill, or a tenancy agreement from a local council or housing association (dated within the last 12 months).
Check the website of your chosen bank for a full list of acceptable documents.
Do I get an app with a basic bank account?
Yes, all of the basic bank accounts in our table above can be managed via a smartphone app.
Could I be refused a basic bank account?
Since September 2016, you are entitled to open a basic bank account if you are ineligible to open a standard bank account.
However, Money Advice Service says you might be refused if:
- You can’t provide proof of ID or address
- You are eligible for a different account with that bank or building society
- You refuse a credit check (although you don’t have to pass one)
- You are threatening, abusive or violent towards staff
- They suspect you of fraud or money laundering.
If you think you've been unfairly rejected, you can appeal first to the provider, and then to the Financial Ombudsman Service.
It's worth noting that providers don't advertise basic bank accounts very well - because they aren't as profitable as well as their other accounts - so you may need to enquire directly if they aren't forthcoming.
Could my account be closed?
Yes, your bank or building society could close your account if:
- there haven’t been any transactions for more than 24 months;
- you regularly fail to meet the terms and conditions of the account;
- you’re no longer legally resident in the European Union;
- you have access to another basic bank account.
Your provider should tell you why it's closing your account - you can lodge a complaint if you don't agree - and you must be given at least two months’ written notice.
Can I use the switching service if I have a basic bank account?
Yes, you can use the switching service for all of the basic bank accounts in our table except Virgin Money's Essential account.
It should take just seven working days to switch from your old account and the move is backed by the Current Account Switch Guarantee guarantee which means that your new bank will take care of moving over incoming and outgoing payments and correct any problems.
Find out more: how to switch your bank account
Can I open a basic bank account if I'm bankrupt?
Yes - all of the providers in our comparison table told Which? they will accept applicants with an undischarged bankruptcy. This is someone who is still going through the process of a bankruptcy order.
You can apply for a basic bank account even if you had previous credit problems such as CCJs, or you have insolvency measure in place such as a Debt Management Plan (DMP), Individual Voluntary Arrangement (IVA), or Debt Relief Order (DRO).
Take action: how to deal with debt - where to turn for help and how to take back control
Are basic bank accounts always free?
No - while you should no longer be charged for failed payments, you will still pay fees if you want to use your debit card abroad.
You will also pay between £23 to £30 if you want to make a payment via CHAPS (the system used for same-day payments with no transaction limit e.g. when buying property). Nationwide FlexBasic is the only account in our table that doesn't charge a fee for this.
Previously, basic bank accounts came with charges of up to £35 if a direct debit or standing order payment bounced. Some providers even let these charges accumulate uncapped, pushing customers further into debt.
The largest UK banks and building societies were forced to remove these fees entirely, following intervention from the regulator.
Barclays, Clydesdale Bank and Yorkshire Bank, the Co-operative Bank, HSBC, Lloyds Banking Group (Bank of Scotland, Halifax and Lloyds), Nationwide Building Society, RBS Group (RBS and NatWest), Santander and TSB all launched new fee-free basic bank accounts on 1 January 2016.
Do basic bank account applications show up on my credit report?
When you apply for basic bank account, the bank should only conduct a ‘soft’ search on your credit history, which serves as a background check to confirm your identity.
Although this is visible to you, when you check your credit report, it will not be visible to other lenders which means it won't impact any future credit applications you make.
When you apply for credit - such as a loan, credit card, phone contract, or, a bank account overdraft - the lender must conduct a 'hard' search which leaves a visible 'footprint' on your credit history and can influence your credit score.
- Find out more in our complete guide to credit reports
Basic bank account alternatives: mobile-only banks
Basic bank accounts from the high-street providers aren't the only option if you're concerned about passing a credit check or don't want a standard current account.
Digital challenger banks and e-money firms - which offer accounts operated entirely via a smartphone app - don't carry out 'hard' credit searches so they can be a lifeline if you've faced financial difficulties in the past.
All providers perform a 'soft' search to confirm your identity. This is visible to you if you check your credit report but other lenders won't be able to see this.
Here, we list out the key features of some of these app-based banks and e-money providers.
Once you've installed the Monzo app, you'll need to confirm your name and date of birth, by taking a picture of your ID (passport, driving or provisional licence, national ID card or other government issue photo ID) and a short video of yourself.
Monzo does ask for a UK address - to send your debit card - but you can use your work address or a friend’s address if you wish.
If it can't find a record for you (e.g. if you recently arrived in the UK) you can still have an account, but it won't lend to you.
There are no fees for using Monzo day-to-day. If you're abroad, you can withdraw up to £200 per month for free, after which you'll be charged a 3% fee. Spending on your card is always free, whether in the UK or on holiday.
You can apply for a flexible overdraft of up to £1,000 in-app, though this involves a full credit check so if you have a poor credit score or previous bankruptcy you are unlikely to be accepted.
It also offers loans to selected customers, between £200 and £15,000.
Is my money safe?
Yes, Monzo is regulated in the UK and is therefore covered by the Financial Services Compensation Scheme (FSCS) up to £85,000.
Setting up a Starling account is speedy - you simply open the app, add your number and enter the verification code sent by text.
Then, as with Monzo, you'll need to take a short selfie video and a photo of your ID (passport, driving licence, ID card, British Biometric Residence Permit).
If it needs additional proof of address, you will be notified via the app. Starling told is it accepts: letters or statements from UK banks and HMRC, a UK driving licence, utility bills, and tenancy agreements or leases.
Starling offers both overdrafts and personal loans to existing current account customers but if you apply for either, it will need to carry out a full credit check.
Is my money safe?
Yes, Starling is regulated in the UK and is therefore fully FSCS-protected up to £85,000.
N26 is a German bank, but operates in the UK. You can start your N26 application online or do it entirely via the app.
Once you've registered your basic details and confirmed your email address, you'll need to take a photo with the camera of your passport, ID card, or driving licence and pair your smartphone to your new account.
N26 intends to launch overdrafts in the next few months, which will require a full credit check if you wish to apply for one.
Is my money safe?
As a German bank, N26 isn't FSCS-protected but your money is protected by an equivalent scheme which insures all deposits up to €100,000 held in EU member states.
Find out more: best banks for authorised overdrafts
Revolut is aimed at adults who want to spend or transfer money abroad.
You can only apply for a Revolut account via the app, downloaded from the official Google Play or Apple store on your phone.
Revolut says it accepts the following documents as proof of address and identity: passport, driving licence, bank statements, household bills, payslips, tax statements, loan agreements, inheritance wills, grant of probate.
The Standard account is free - you can spend, transfer and exchange up to £5,000 in total every month, then a 0.5% fee applies - while the Premium account costs £6.99 per month and allows unlimited spending and a more generous ATM withdrawal limit.
Read about these pricing plans and its premium Metal account here.
Is my money safe?
Revolut has an e-money licence, not a banking licence, so there is no FSCS-protection, though your money is held in ringfenced accounts with Barclays/Lloyds.
These funds can’t be invested or used to pay other creditors if Revolut went bust.
Find out more: best and worst debit cards to use abroad
With Monese, you can open a multi-currency account using your mobile phone and ID (Passport, national ID card, or driving licence) in minutes, with no credit checks and no proof of address required.
There are three pricing tiers (Simple, Classic and Premium). Its Simple plan has no monthly fee and you get:
- Fee-free ATM withdrawals and cash top-ups of up to £200 a month
- Fee-free foreign currency card allowance of up to £2,000 a month
- Fee-free foreign currency transfers to other Monese accounts (2% fee if sending to non-Monese accounts)
The Classic and Premium plans cost £4.95 and £14.95 per month, respectively. We go into more detail in our challenger bank guide.
Is my money safe?
The Monese prepaid debit card is issued by PrePay Technologies Limited which has an e-money licence not a UK banking licence so there is no FSCS-protection.
However, funds are ring-fenced in a separate account which means your money can’t be lent out by the bank.
If Monese or PrePay Technologies went bust, you would be able to claim your funds from this segregated account and your money is protected against claims made by creditors.
Pockit was founded in 2014, aimed at the 'unbanked' who struggle to open high street current accounts.
An account can be opened online or via the app in three minutes and Pockit will only carry out checks to confirm your name and address.
A Pockit Basic Account is issued if your identity and address cannot be automatically verified when you sign up - which restricts how much money you can hold and transfer - but you'll be upgraded within 48 hours once these checks are complete.
The full account costs £0.99 per month to run and you pay an additional £0.99 for: ATM withdrawals, paying bills by direct debit, sending money to UK accounts (plus up to 3.5% of the value if outside of the UK), and paying in with cash (at PayPoint).
The app offers spending analytics to help improve money management, and participating retailers or "Pockit Partners" such as M&S, Argos and New Look pay up to 10% cashback when you spend on your card.
You can use Pockit abroad but it's very expensive (you pay 4% of the transaction value plus £2.25) so avoid taking it on holiday.
Is my money safe?
Pockit's card is issued by Wirecard Card Solutions which has an e-money licence not a UK banking licence so there is no FSCS-protection.
But, funds are ring-fenced in a separate account so if Pockit or Wirecard went bust, you would be able to claim your funds from this segregated account and your money is protected against claims made by creditors.
Find out more: how to deal with debt
Like Pockit, U Account (formerly known as Ffrees) is geared towards adults who can't - or don't wish to - open a mainstream current account.
You must apply online first - at www.uaccount.uk/unbank - where you'll be asked to fill in a short form to verify your name and address.
In some cases, you'll be asked to provide ID as proof of your name and/or address.
The basic account has no monthly usage fee but it charges £1 for payments out (including direct debits) and cash withdrawals. You also pay 3% plus £1 if you take cash out abroad.
If you pay £5 per month, these fees are reduced to 50p, or you can pay £10 per month for free outbound payments and direct debits.
Is my money safe?
U Account's card is issued by Wirecard Card Solutions which has an e-money licence not a UK banking licence so there is no FSCS-protection.
But, funds are ring-fenced in a separate account so if U Account or Wirecard went bust, you would be able to claim your funds from this segregated account and your money is protected against claims made by creditors.
Find out more: how to deal with debt
What are Post Office Card Accounts?
Post Office card accounts are an alternative to a basic bank account, and can only accept benefit and pension payments.
There are no credit checks to open one, but you’ll need to contact the government department that pays your pension, benefits or tax credits and ask them to set you up.
You get a card to withdraw cash and check your balance at your local Post Office branch. But, as well as no overdraft facility, you can't set up any direct debits or use your card in shops/online.
The Department for Work and Pensions (DWP) has confirmed that its contract with the Post Office Card Accounts will end on 30 November 2021.
The DWP has said it will be writing to all users to explain their options.
What are credit union current accounts?
Credit unions mainly offer savings and loans to their members, but some also offer basic banking services without the need for a credit check.
The 'Engage' account is the most high profile example. It's offered by various credit unions across the UK and is available to anyone, whatever your credit score or financial history.
You pay a monthly management fee of £2, and must load money onto the prepaid Visa debit card in advance (bank transfers are free up but Paypoint top-ups cost 50p plus 2.5%).
There's no overdraft facility, so you can't run up debt, though you do pay 75p for ATM withdrawals and if you use your card abroad, you'll pay an extra £1 (£2 for foreign ATM withdrawals) plus 2% of the transaction value.
You get your own UK sort code and account number, so you can set up direct debits, and participating retailers pay up to 15% cashback when you buy their goods with your Engage card.
As with other prepaid cards, the Engage card is issued by Contis Financial Services Limited under an e-money licence so deposits are not covered by the FSCS, though they are held in a segregated account so that if the firm becomes insolvent, your money is protected against claims made by creditors.
- Find out more: credit union loans and savings accounts