Gary Mooney and Carl Boothroyd were released from prison in February this year. Then, just a few weeks later, they and everyone else around them, were put into lockdown. “I thought I was going to build my life up but I couldn’t do that because the world got locked down. No one could really do anything,” says Mooney, 43, currently living in Preston.
The past few months have been difficult for everyone, but particularly for the most vulnerable. However, there has been a sliver of good news to help them regain a foothold in everyday living – a scheme to set up bank accounts for homeless people, ex-prisoners, those living in insecure housing and others who have previously fallen under the radar, has been expanded.
Without a permanent residential address, those who sleep rough, “couch surf”, or stay in shelters, typically find it difficult, or impossible, to open a bank account, making it harder to get a job and restricting access to key benefit payments such as universal credit.
Traditionally, in order to open an account, banks have required photo ID – such as a passport or driver’s licence – as well as proof of address, which could be a council tax or energy bill, documents which some people may not have, or can find difficult to keep safe without a fixed address.
The initiative has seen high-street bank Halifax team up with charitable groups and metro mayors, and, since March, it has helped more than 2,000 vulnerable people open a bank account.
As part of this, the bank has been working closely with the Ministry of Justice to give ex-offenders access to an account when they leave prison as part of efforts to help them readjust to life in the community. Since lockdown, it says it has supported more than 450 former prisoners in this way.
Boothroyd, 46, has had several spells in prison over the past 10 years, and has been homeless on a number of occasions, but is now rebuilding his life and trying to save money to rent a flat.
A former heroin user who fell into shoplifting, Boothroyd was robbed by his landlord and found himself sleeping rough.
As a consequence, he finds it difficult to trust institutions, but he managed to open a Halifax account and says “it has helped me no end. I can transfer money to my kids’ accounts”.
Boothroyd uses his account’s “save the change” feature, which rounds up the amount to the nearest pound when a customer buys something with their debit card, and then transfers the difference to a savings account. He has also been attending the bank’s digital skills workshops to learn how to manage his money online.
In February this year he was released from his most recent spell in prison, and Boothroyd, who has three children and lives in Preston, says life is “good” – he has been clean for five months. “I’ve got my family back in my life,” he says. He is taking things day-to-day but says he would like to do voluntary work with animals.
Mooney, who was also formerly homeless, opened his Halifax account after he was released. “Having it makes it a lot easier,” he says. He had wanted to be able to withdraw the amount he needed from a cash machine and it gives him “a bit of control”. In terms of future plans, Mooney says he is keen to talk to someone at a local jobcentre about work options.
Both men have received temporary housing via CC Housing Management, which says it is “committed to transforming lives,” and that “Covid-19 has not stopped us”.
At the beginning of the lockdown, the government asked local authorities in England to house all rough sleepers and those in hostels and night shelters, in order to prevent the spread of coronavirus. This was seen as an opportunity to move to the next step and set up bank accounts for many homeless people and other vulnerable “unbanked” individuals.
However, Halifax is not the only bank offering support. In December 2019, following a successful pilot scheme, HSBC launched a service where people with no fixed address can open an account when accompanied by a caseworker from Shelter or Crisis, using the address of the charity supporting them.
“We have opened 366 so far, and remain ready to help customers in need. We expect this to reach 400 within the next couple of weeks,” says HSBC.
More than 80 accounts were opened during the pilot in Liverpool, one to a man who had been homeless for 12 years, and which meant he could claim benefits for the first time in more than a decade.
Mike Songer, Halifax’s director of customer vulnerability, says having access to a bank account can also help people avoid the so-called “poverty premium” which can affect individuals who run their lives entirely with notes and coins.
Research has previously suggested those who do not have a bank account can pay hundreds of pounds extra each year for bills and basic services because they often miss out on preferential deals and discounts on utilities, mobile phone contracts, broadband and personal loans.
Source: The Guardian