Identify yourself, citizen!

May 16th, 2014

If you’re dealing with a bank, building society or other such financial services provider, you’ll inevitably have to hand over some documents to prove your identity and address. The Money Laundering regulations require such institutions to carry out checks on the identity of people opening new accounts – and with good reason. However, the regulations don’t specify exactly how this should be done. Typically, you’re asked to produce some sort of document that links your photograph to your full name – such as a passport – and some sort of proof of your home address, such as a printed utility bill or bank statement. However, the documents accepted by each bank vary considerably! Of course, we increasingly bank online now, and so this means that a new account opened online inevitably results in a letter from the said bank saying “we need to see these documents, but don’t send the originals in the post”. They usually provide you the option to provide a “certified copy” in lieu of the original. However, no-one can agree on exactly who can certify a document, and how they should do it. I have in front of me, by way of example, two letters from two different institutions asking for certified copies.

Post Office Savings (aka Bank of Ireland UK) will accept a tax coding notice from HMRC as proof of ID (which is useful, and unusual), but if you send a photocopy of a passport or driving licence it must be certified by a “legal professional, accountant, bank official or post office clerk”. They must “sign and print their name, specify the date, affix an official stamp or write their business address and contact details and write or stamp the words Certified Original Sighted or words to that effect”.

Tesco Bank (aka RBS), by way of comparison, won’t accept HMRC correspondence as proof of ID or even as proof of address – but they will accept certified copies by “a bank, a post office clerk, a senior civil servant, a police officer, a member of the judiciary, a lawyer, solicitor or notary public, an accountant, an Authorised Financial Intermediary, a Doctor (as long as you’re one of their patients), a Teacher (with whom you have a pre-existing relationship), a local councillor, MP, AM, MEP or MSP, an official of an embassy, consulate or high commission issuing a passport of origin.” That’s a much longer list of people (though with some odd caveats), but their certification is more onerous – they must:

  • add the words “original seen and copy provides a good likeness of the individual”
  • record their full name, date, signature and official stamp (if they have one)
  • Record their business address (or personal address if they don’t have a business address)
  • Record their professional qualifications and professional body membership number
  • Record their contact details (I presume this means a phone number or email address)

This is clearly quite barking mad, as it means every time I open a new bank account I have to get a new photocopy certified with the right form of words and with a person deemed acceptable by the bank in question. The Post Office will certify documents (they charge £7 to do up to three different documents) but they have a standard form of words and I’ve often struggled to persuade the clerk that they need to use the form of words specified by the bank. Quite often, you get a little leaflet from the British Bankers’ Association explaining the need for ID documents – given that the BBA can get a standard leaflet together, why can’t they get their members to agree on a standard list of “suitable people” and a standard form of words for a certified photocopy? I might think that this was the sort of restrictive practice designed to discourage people from changing their bank account too often…

Of course, the rise and rise of online banking, online council tax payments and so on means that the old paper “proofs” are starting to go away. I know that there is a digital proof-of-ID scheme being developed by the government, but I fear that’ll go the way of all government IT projects. We could start by making the paper process less irksome!