Opening a bank account

In the majority of cases, when you are transferred to Universal Credit you will not be able to have your housing costs paid direct to your landlord.  Your total benefit payment, including any payments to cover your rent, will be paid directly into your own bank account once a month.

It is important to check that you have the correct type of bank account, as some do not allow you to set up Direct Debit payments. If you do not currently have a bank account, you need to open one.

Basic bank accounts

Basic bank accounts are the simplest type of bank account. They are ideal if you need an account to receive your benefit payments, pay your rent, or just help to control your spending.

With a basic bank account, you can:

  • have your wages, benefits, pensions or Tax Credits paid directly into your account
  • pay cheques in (remember these will take between 3 – 10 working days to clear before you can use or withdraw the money)
  • withdraw money at cash machines using a cash card (this is usually free but there may be a charge for using some machines)
  • set up direct debits to pay your rent and other bills - this may mean that you can get special deals and pay less for services like your gas, electric, or telephone
  • set up standing orders for your rent or other bills

You cannot:

  • have a cheque book, debit card or credit card
  • go overdrawn

Who can open a basic bank account?

Everyone should be able to open a basic bank account, even people with low credit scores. The bank or building society may want to check your credit history to see if you have any County Court Judgments (CCJs) against you or have been made bankrupt.  Some may refuse you an account if you are an un-discharged bankrupt, but please check with the individual banks. 

Who provides basic bank accounts?

In the links section, we have included a list of major banks who operate basic bank accounts.  Many basic bank accounts are completely free but some banks may charge you for certain transactions. 

Please check the exact details with the bank you choose. We cannot help you decide which bank to choose or get involved in your application process.  

What do I need to open an account?

By law, banks and buildings societies need to check the identity of any new customers. This is to help stop criminal activities like money laundering. So to open a new account, you will need to provide two different documents to prove your identity.

These may vary between banks and building societies, but will include such documents as:

  • proof of your name
    driving licence, passport, benefit or Tax Credit award, Housing Benefit letters, workers ID cards
  • proof of your address 
    utility bills, benefit or Tax Credit award letters, HMRC letters, Council Tax bill

All bills and letters need to show your current address and be dated within the last six months. Mobile phone bills are not accepted.

Check with the individual bank or building society what documents they will accept. If you have difficulties proving your identity, they may still be able to help or refer your application to someone who can authorise accounts in exceptional circumstances.