Payments Council Produces Guidelines on Account Numbers Format

The Payments Council is honouring its commitment, made in the National Payments Plan, to evaluate the problems linked to using non-standard format account numbers. It has developed best practice guidelines to encourage adoption of standard account numbers, as well as assist those financial institutions that still use non-standard account numbers.

The National Payments Plan, published in May 2008, revealed that some users experience difficulty when making payments with non-standard account numbers; for example, their payments may be prone to delay, or setting up a direct debit may be more difficult. In response to this, the Payments Council undertook an extensive consultation with stakeholders and has designed best practice guidelines to reduce the impact of non-standardised account numbers on users. The guidelines will be applicable to all financial institutions, and are available to download from

The key recommendations for banks currently using non-standard account number formats include:

  • Adopting the standard format when they upgrade their systems.
  • Masking non-standard numbers so that customers can use new account numbers whilst the system can still recognise and process via its non-standard format.

In cases where the first two recommendations cannot be applied, other suggestions include:

  • Creating a standard format account number from a customer’s internal reference number. This would involve using the reference number to form a six-digit sort code and eight-digit account number.
  • Ensuring that non-standard account numbers can be checked using a modulus checker.
  • In cases where a financial institution uses a collection account, the institution would have to allocate a reference number to their customer in addition to providing the customer with the collection account’s sort code and account number. The reference number is required because a collection account would not otherwise link the customer to their payment.

Mike Alexander, the chairman of the Payment Council Large Corporate User Forum and an independent director on the Payment Council Board, said: “It’s a bugbear of all businesses, large and small, when they come across non-standard account numbers. Best practice, if followed by as many parties as possible, could make a considerable improvement to the processing difficulties those businesses have and the amount of time spent on manually repairing data when it doesn’t work as it should.”

The Payments Council will evaluate the effectiveness of these guidelines as part of the triennial review of the National Payments Plan in 2011.


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