By Felix Ford, Sona Circle
A major barrier for most refugees when looking to establish a life for themselves in new locations is the ability to open a bank account. Without one, individuals are unable to receive money, make payments, start a tenancy, or even have a safe place to begin to save funds.
Currently, refugees have only 28 days to obtain housing and financial resources upon recognition of being in the UK, which is almost impossible without a bank account. If they fail to do so within this period, the government withdraws any support, such as payments and accommodation, resulting in many becoming vulnerable to homelessness and destitution.
From June 2016 in Germany, the Payment Accounts Act made it possible for anybody to open a basic bank account. This means recognised refugees and asylum seekers, alongside people without a fixed address, can start to acquire some sort of financial stability and also contribute to the economy. This is not the case in the UK, however, some banks and organisations are making noteworthy changes to provide financial inclusion for refugees.
Banks Breaking Down Barriers
Some banks have altered their requirements for being able to set up a bank account with them, meaning refugees and homeless people can now open an account without having to provide a fixed address, photo ID, nor pay for the service.
HSBC is offering Bank Accounts to people in these circumstances, on the condition they meet the following criteria:
- 18 years old or over;
- have refugee status or be a non-refoulement claimant;
- be referred by an approved NGO; and
- have a valid reason for opening an account.
Digital bank, Monese, provides refugees who have resettled in the UK with free premium accounts. This type of account usually costs £14.95 a month, yet the digital bank is happy to supply the facilities to refugees for free, for life.
To be able to open such an account, individuals must have been granted asylum and received their Biometric Residence Permit (BRP). You can learn more about the bank account here.
Monzo is an online bank offering a similar service to refugees. They have acknowledged that access to a bank account is imperative for people to start a new life in this country. Monzo has pledged to make opening a bank account with them more accessible, and therefore neither a passport or ID card is required to do so.
Anyone can open a Monzo bank account almost immediately via their app. To be able to obtain an account you need to have a Biometric Residence Permit (BRP), and an address within the UK for them to send the debit card.
The Refugee Council Banking Guide
Additional to the offerings from these banks, several charities are providing invaluable knowledge and assistance to refugees who are looking to gain financial inclusion and commence a new chapter of their lives.
The Refugee Council, a UK based charity, has been particularly vocal in the importance of enabling refugees to be able to gain access to a bank account swiftly upon arrival. Their Head of Advocacy, Andy Hewett, emphasised this:
“Helping refugees set up a basic bank account quickly and easily is critical to ensuring they can secure a home and a means of supporting themselves before the 28-day move-on period ends.”
More often than not, they are poorly educated on the UK banking system, nor do they possess the required documents to be able to set up a bank account.
To help those that have gained refugee status in this country, the Refugee Council has constructed a banking guide that gives relevant information related to opening an account. For example, it provides a breakdown of; the documents needed to get a bank account, the different types of accounts available, and clear definitions of important terminology. It also mentions what to consider post obtaining a bank account such as tips for improving your credit score, interest-free loans, and information on scams and how to deal with them.
A bank account that allows individuals to deposit money, withdraw cash and make transfers is essential for people to be able to provide a livelihood for themselves and their families, whilst also enabling them to engage with the economy. This is no exception for refugees – early financial inclusion upon arrival in new countries is an absolute necessity.