Joint call to ensure the right to a basic bank account for all people who need it

On March 05, 2014, Social Platform together with the European Foundation for Financial Inclusion and other 12 NGOs sent an open letter to the Greek Finance Minister Stournaras, Commissioners Barnier and Mimica, and the EP rapporteur Klute, on the directive on basic payment accounts. This letter was also sent to the Finance Ministers of the other 27 member states and the Permanent Representations in Brussels.

It is no longer possible to participate fully in modern society without the possibility of access to a range of basic financial services, especially a basic bank account, yet there are up to 58 million people in the EU who currently do not have such an account and who stand to benefit if the proposal is agreed.

To ensure that this law truly benefits the needs of European citizens, we urged the three institutions to carefully consider four key provisions:

  • Access – Member States must ensure that consumers are able to open basic payment accounts which should be free or at a reasonable fee at bank branches within close reach of their homes. Therefore all payment service providers should be designated by Member States to ensure this objective is achieved.
  • Self-regulation measures – we strongly recommend binding measures to ensure basic payment accounts are a legal right for citizens and available free of charge or at a reasonable fee, irrespective of circumstances. Self-regulation measures have proven to be inadequate.
  • Refusal to open and closing down the account – The right to refuse to open or close down an account should be limited to the following cases: if the account has been used for criminal activity, if it has lain dormant for 24 months, or if the consumer has opened a second payment account.
  • Characteristics of a basic payment account – Payment accounts with basic features which are only offered online are not viable alternatives, as many European citizens do not have internet access for a variety of reasons. Basic payment accounts providers must include deposit and withdrawal services, a bankcard for use in ATMs within the Member States, direct debits, standing orders, credit transfers, payments by card and online payments where available. Member States should ensure that there are no limits to the number of operations available to the consumer on the basic payment account, nor should there be a minimum number of operations. Overdraft facilities should be part of the basic payment account and should be made available on a case by case basis. People without debts or not in a situation of over-indebtedness that simply have a limited income should have the possibility to be offered a reasonable overdraft facility. This could for example avoid difficulties when the income is delayed but necessary payments have to be done.