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New rules could soon make it easier for homeless people or those on low incomes to open a bank account.
Access to banking services should be a legal right, according to the EU Parliament, which is calling for legislation to bring slacking banks into line.
It says that 10 per cent of EU citizens still struggle without a bank account, including homeless people, those on very low incomes, students, people with no credit record and foreign workers.
European MPs, who argue that the “soft approach” is not working, are calling for new rules that will force all banks across the European Union to offer basic services. When similar calls were made last year, the parliament said that of the 30 million “unbanked” citizens, between six and seven million had been denied access to a bank account.
Bob Baker, director at The Simon Community, pointed out that although the unbanked might struggle to open an account once homeless, for the vast majority, homelessness is a temporary situation and many already hold a bank account.
But Balbir Chatrik, director of policy and participation at youth homelessness charity Centrepoint, added that the situation could potentially get worse. “Limited access to mainstream banking services remains a significant problem for homeless young people,” she said. “Many young people get turned down for bank accounts because they cannot provide the necessary identification documents. This is likely to pose an increasing problem, as the scrapping of benefits cheques will make it harder for those without a bank account to receive benefits.”
While the issue of universal banking is an ongoing problem, with banks inclined to favour “commercially attractive” customers, some progress has been made - especially in the UK, according to the British Banking Authority (BBA).
Brian Capon of the BBA explained: “In the 1990s banks in the UK worked with the government to make banking as accessible as possible through the Universal Banking initiative that promoted financial inclusion.
“At the start of the initiative there were around three million people who did not have a bank account and this has since been reduced to around one million.”
Today, all major high street banks offer basic banking services and there are now around 8.5 million such accounts, with almost all offering access at Post Office counters. Generally, only those with a history of fraud will be turned away, though many banks will also decline applications made by undischarged bankrupts, added Capon.
Despite the progress, the EU Parliament wants banks to go further, offering more and better services for basic account holders - including a small overdraft facility - while also making it easier for current account holders to switch to a free basic account.