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How long can a bank freeze an account?

How long can a bank freeze an account?
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You probably already know that bank accounts can be frozen. But you may not be aware of the rights of the bank in this situation. This article covers how long a bank can freeze an account.

What happens when a bank freezes your account?

You will not be able to access that bank account to:

  • Make any contactless payments with your debit card
  • Withdraw money at an ATM
  • Withdraw money over the counter
  • Move money to any other accounts you might have
  • Make any regular payments by direct debit or standing order
  • Use telephone banking or online banking services

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Why would a bank freeze my account?

There are three main reasons why a bank will freeze your account:

1. Security breach

A bank will freeze your account if it thinks that someone is trying to gain access to make a fraudulent payment.

If this happens, you will be contacted by the bank’s fraud department. They will ask you some security questions and go through the process to unfreeze your account.

Depending on how quickly the bank is able to contact you, your bank account is likely to be frozen for less than a day.

2. Debts owed following court action

This can happen if you have an outstanding debt and the person you owe money to (the creditor) has taken court action against you.

The creditor can secure a debt order and your bank account can be frozen. The bank can then communicate with the creditor directly regarding the debt.

If you are wondering how long a bank can freeze an account in this situation, it depends on the circumstances of the case. It can take weeks rather than days.

3. Suspicious activity

Banks have a legal obligation to monitor bank accounts for any suspicious activity. This prevents their accounts from being used for serious crimes including money laundering and terrorism.

They will freeze an account if they detect that this type of activity is taking place. How long your account remains frozen will depend on the action taken by the bank. If further action is taken, your account could be frozen for weeks.

What is ‘suspicious activity’?

Bank accounts are monitored using computer systems that flag any unusual or suspicious transactions.

Believe it or not, we are all creatures of habit when it comes to our spending, so banks tend to look for activity that differs from the usual.

Typical banking activity that could be a cause for concern includes:

  • Regular large cash deposits made over the counter
  • Multiple large payments made to the same person in a short period of time
  • Any large payment made to a person or company outside of the UK
  • Payments made to a person or company that is known to the bank as suspicious

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Can a bank freeze your account without notice?

If a bank suspects fraudulent transactions are taking place without your knowledge, then time is of the essence. In this situation, the bank will freeze your account without notice, but they will notify you as soon as possible.

If your bank account is frozen due to court action, then the chances are you will be aware that this could be a possibility before it happens. This is because a creditor could apply for a third-party debt order with the court. If you are in this situation it’s best to seek legal advice.

Take home

How long a bank can freeze your account will depend on your particular situation. In any case, it’s a good idea to have an emergency fund in a separate account that amounts to at least three months’ worth of living expenses.

If you are looking for a savings account, check out our article on savings accounts worth considering in 2021.

If you have problems with debt, contact Citizens Advice, or Step Change.

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