Bank accounts for the homeless: an effective solution or covering up a bigger issue?

HSBC have started offering bank accounts to homeless people, in order to help them get back onto their feet. The ‘No Fixed Address’ scheme allows those without an address to open an account and receive a debit card. The hope of the scheme is to allow people to gain a sense of financial stability and allow them to be a part of society again. This seems like the perfect way to tackle the issue of homelessness, but is this only a short-term solution to a much larger problem?

Rates of homelessness have skyrocketed in the past ten years, with figures from the homelessness charity Shelter showing that at least 320,000 people are homeless, and almost 5,000 are sleeping rough. Furthermore, the number of households living in temporary accommodation reached a 10 year high in 2020. The homeless population we see on the streets each day is just one aspect of the problem we are exposed to. HSBC’s new scheme aims to help those living in temporary accommodation, whose address may not apply when opening a bank account, and those on the street who wouldn’t even have a temporary address to fall back on.

The programme began in Liverpool in collaboration with the Whitechapel Centre, a leading homeless and housing charity for the Liverpool region. The scheme is now open in 31 major branches around the UK and is continuing to expand.

Whilst this is a new scheme HSBC have begun to offer, banks such as Monzo and Lloyds have been partaking in a similar mission for a while. The difference with HSBC’s mission is that it directly targets homeless people to help them get back onto their feet. Jobcentre staff have been given a 3 million pound fund to inform homeless people of the new scheme. The system of outreach and direct audience makes the HSBC scheme extremely unique. It is one of the first schemes done by a large company to tackle the homeless problem. HSBC have collaborated with homeless charities, including Shelter and Crisis, to help those wanting to open bank accounts. Each person is assigned a caseworker from one of these charities, or their local shelter, to help verify their identity; this way they can access a bank account and a debit card.

Each year, everyone that works for HSBC in the UK has two available days to volunteer for a charity: a total of 80,000 days. This scheme evolved out of their mission to help local communities. The aim of this endeavour was to give people a safe place to store and spend money and save for their future. Many homeless people are entitled to disability benefits, pensions and universal credit which they cannot receive without a UK bank account. The advice services help those who would otherwise be unsure how to claim benefits. Some restrictions do apply to the bank account. Those opening bank accounts are not given overdraft or credit facilities to ensure they only spend the money that is available to them.

Homelessness is an issue that is often ignored by governments, despite it being an issue we are all exposed to on our journeys into work, university or even the supermarket. HSBC have laid the groundwork for a scheme that will hopefully encourage other big banks to embark on similar missions. By placing homelessness at the forefront of their charitable endeavours, HSBC have brought awareness to homelessness among big businesses.

The difficulty with this mission is that many homeless people are unaware of the scheme, it is up to everyone to ensure the word is spread. Outreach is part of their objective for this program, but approaching each homeless person individually is a large task that requires a strong base.

This plan is an incredible start to tackling the issue of homelessness however it must still be an issue that we lobby governments and local authorities about. One big bank may be able to make a huge difference to thousands of people, but the investment of government funding into housing projects should still be at the forefront of our mission. Projects such as Housing First which began in April 2019 in Scotland have enabled 173 people to find reliable support and housing. Without housing, people may struggle to find jobs, and without jobs the bank accounts which HSBC are now offering would become insignificant. There is no denying that the scheme that HSBC has started is extremely beneficial in giving homeless people a sense of identity and purpose once again. It gives them the opportunity to enter back into society with dignity. The humanising aspect of the programme is crucial.

However, there is always more that can be done. One big bank may have started addressing the issue, which means others easily can too. Young people especially have the capacity and time to be able to lobby big companies to follow the same rhetoric that HSBC has employed. On a larger scale, writing to government officials and local authorities would bring the issue into the political realm.

On a much smaller scale, providing food, money or warmth to anyone sleeping rough is still incredibly important. Organisations such as the Trussell Trust, The Edinburgh Northwest Foodbank and Edinburgh City Mission help to tackle the everyday issues that homeless people are facing. Furthermore, societies at Edinburgh including Heat for the Homeless Edinburgh and More Hope for Homeless are working to raise awareness of homelessness and address the ways in which the student population can help.

When it comes to the issue of homelessness, every little helps; whether it’s sparing some change every few days for a rough sleeper or some time to write directly to those in power, who can address the issues from the top. Homelessness is a prevalent issue that all of us can make a difference to.

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