November 14, 2004

Fringe Benefits

According to the BBC this afternoon, three million adults in Britain have no bank account, and consequently are excluded from society to the extent that they may have difficulty renting DVDs.
Their case was demonstrated by a woman with two part time jobs and “a number of state benefits” who applied to three banks for their basic [i.e. not current] account. At the first one she failed because she was unable to provide ID. At the second one she refused to provide such ID as her “newly-acquired passport” and found the postal application method too time-consuming, and so she failed again. At the third one, the bank would only allow her to have a current account.
It would seem to me that the banks have every right to refuse customers who are almost certainly going to cost them money. And if those people have previously preferred not to have a bank account, what business has the government to quietly insist that they do? And furthermore, the proposal to relax ID laws in order to allow these people to get bank accounts strikes me as a wonderful opportunity for those in the money laundering business.
In my opinion, those who choose to exist at the edge of society should be required to jump through the same hoops as the rest of us, if they wish to be included. I am particularly bemused by the BBC’s assertion that one of the disavantages suffered by these poor excluded victims is not being able to access their cash 24 hours a day; I had thought that this actually applied to those of us who do not keep our savings under our mattresses and our take-home in our back pockets.


4 thoughts on “Fringe Benefits

  1. At the same time though, even having held an account with one back for five years, should I then decide to open a savings account with the same bank, I still have to provide more photo ID.
    Also, particularly regarding the second application (the postal form) considering the government’s own advice about avoiding identity theft, I can fully understand why the case-study refused to send passport and ID in the post.
    The financial industry seems to be utterly schizoid; I agree (to a point) with your point that they should reserve the right to refuse accounts that are likely to cost them money, but equally how can they tell that until the account has been in existence for a while? They don’t want to take on risks, and as such they rely on systems such as credit checking – however, the credit-checking score system hasn’t been updated since the ’80s, and still degrades people who are, for example self-employed, in rented houses, or who move on a regular basis.
    At the same time, the banks want to make money, and so they keep pushing people to borrow more, and they particularly like to push those loans and finance deals on those who already owe money. Maybe I’m naive, but I see it as far more “risky” and “potentially expensive” to end up with people in bankruptcy who can’t afford to pay back everything they’ve borrowed, as opposed to the – to me – smaller risk of people who haven’t had proper accounts before, regardless of the reason.

  2. As for whether the Government has a right to insist that people must have a bank account, you’re right, they shouldn’t. However, it’s a nice “easy” way to pay in benefits, and (I hope) a more secure method than all the guff involving giros and ID – and also a method that should (in theory at least) make the entire benefit system slightly less prone to fraud than before.

  3. A Cambodian friend of mine, having been resident in the UK for 20-odd years (he arrived here as a refugee in the 1970s), holding a very respectable full time job, with valid ID and a written reference from me was *still not able* to get a bank account to pay his salary into.
    I think this is more to do with the banks being completes idiots than problems with Govt policy.

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