Despite struggling to open a basic account with two high-street banks because of her conviction for fraud, Janice found the answer to her problems in the shape of her local Credit Union.

I’d been in prison for almost 4 years when I became eligible to move to open conditions.  As anybody that’s been through the system knows, it’s at this point that you can start to go on town leave, go home for a couple of days each month to re-establish links with your family and get a paid job which will hopefully better prepare you for your release.

Everything about the open prison system is designed to set you up for the future and I hadn’t been there very long before I met my personal officer. We had long discussion about my future plans including what type of work I wanted to do upon release and what I could do whilst I was still in custody. He also asked me whether I had a bank account which my wages could be paid into.

As I’d been convicted of fraud, I wasn’t sure whether I’d still be able to access my existing bank account or whether it had been closed down. My personal officer explained to me that the prison had a link to a local bank and I’d easily be able to open an account there. He suggested that as there was some uncertainty around my existing account, this might be the best option for me.

A few days later an appointment had been made for me with the bank and off I went to fill in all the necessary paperwork. It didn’t take long for the bank to contact me and tell me that they were unable to open my account. They didn’t explain the reason for this and all my personal officer could tell me was

Sometimes that happens. It might be because they know you’re in prison for fraud.”

This was a bit of a blow and, as soon as I was able to go into town for a visit, I headed off to Metro Bank to try to open an account with them. I’d heard that this was a “new kind of bank” and that opening an account with them would be “simple and hassle free”. The application process was indeed simple and I was told that my current account card would be posted to me within the next couple of days.

Two weeks later and I still hadn’t received anything from the bank and so I called in to find out what was going on. The lady I spoke to couldn’t really help but told me that a letter had been sent to me. Sure enough, a couple of days later I received a letter from the bank informing me that they were unable to open an account as there was a CIFAS (Credit Industry Fraud Avoidance System) marker against my name. I’d never come across this before but I quickly realised that it was likely to cause a problem for me in the future.

I started to do some research as to other options open to me and discovered that I might have to try opening a managed account or get a prepaid card account. It looked like there might be some costs attached to these and that really put me off.

I continued with my research and before long found the details of my local Credit Union. I’d always thought that Credit Unions just offered savings accounts so I was surprised to see that they did in fact offer a current account which gave me a visa debit card and cash back rewards. There were no credit checks and apparently anybody could open an account irrespective of their financial history.

I downloaded the application form and within a week my account was set up and I’d received my visa card. I was a bit nervous about using the card the first time thinking it might not be accepted but there was absolutely no problem at all. The Credit Union account was a great option for me and I can’t recommend them highly enough.

By Janice (name changed to protect identity)

Comment from Unlock

Unlock worked for 9 years on a banking project to improve the accessibility to basic bank accounts for people in prison (or just released). However, as Janice’s case demonstrates there can still be barriers for people with fraud convictions who have to consider alternatives to high-street providers. The options available can vary significantly and we would always encourage anybody looking to go down this route to explore carefully what’s on offer.

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