Sending money to the wrong bank account

If you've sent money to the wrong bank account, whether it's 10p or £10,000, unfortunately the payment can't simply be reversed. Here's what to do if you accidentally make this mistake plus how to avoid doing it in the first place.

OK, so what exactly do you mean by 'sending money to the wrong bank account'? In the world of internet banking millions of electronic payments are made every day, but a slip of the finger and the wrong sort code or account number keyed in and you could end up sending a payment to the wrong account.

That's because the only information banks use to identify payees is the sort code and account number, and not the recipient's name, meaning if these details are wrongly entered the cash could end up in a stranger's bank account. And the worst thing about it is that erroneous payments cannot be automatically reversed.

So what can I do if this happens to me? You need to contact your bank straight away to let it know about the mistake. While banks can't stop payments that have already been made, contacting it as soon as possible will help speed up the process of sorting it out. It’s a good idea to keep a note of all correspondence you have with the bank and also to make note of exactly when the error was made. If you know the mistake you made (eg, you used the wrong sort code), then make a note of that too.

But what if I don't realise straight away that I've made a mistake? Before April 2014 there was nothing in place to help people who found themselves in this sticky situation. Thankfully, banks have now signed up to a voluntary code, which means that as soon as someone tells their bank they have made a mistake with a payment, the bank will act within two working days. And it doesn't matter if you discovered your mistake after a week or even a year... though it's good financial sense to keep an eye on your account(s) to make sure your payments have reached the right recipient.

These measures were further strengthened in January 2016. Now, where there's clear evidence of a genuine mistake, your bank will contact the receiving bank on your behalf requesting that the money isn't mistakenly spent by the person who accidentally received it.

Although Faster Payments says the improvements cannot guarantee you'll get your money back, they mean that, for the first time, in straightforward cases where the person who accidentally received the money into their account does not dispute returning the money, it will be returned within 20 working days.

In all cases the person who accidentally receives the funds will be contacted by their bank and given the opportunity to dispute it. Safeguards are also in place to ensure that where the circumstances of the claim are less clear cut, no funds are removed without the consent of the recipient.

If the bank is unable to reclaim the money that was sent to the wrong account immediately, for example if the person you accidentally sent it to refuses to return it (more on that later), you’ll be notified of the outcome of the bank’s investigation within 20 working days from the point that you let it know, but it will usually be much sooner than this.

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So whether you get the money back and how quickly depends on whether the person who wrongly receives the money admits that it is not rightfully theirs. Further complications can arise if the recipient has spent the money, as the bank cannot take money out of their account if it'd cause them to enter their overdraft.

OK, sounds good, but what if I'm not happy with the outcome? If you follow this procedure and you’re still not satisfied with the outcome you can first of all follow your bank's formal complaints procedure. Banks are required by law to have a written complaints process, so if you can't find details on your bank's website, ask it to send it to you. The bank then has eight weeks to respond to your complaint.

If you're unhappy with the outcome, you can go to the Financial Ombudsman. It can help sooner if your bank has sent you a rejection letter suggesting you use the Ombudsman. For more information on how to complain read the guide to Your Financial Rights.

You mentioned that the person who accidentally receives the money may refuse to give it back. Are they allowed to do that? No is the simple answer. But it isn't that simple. If you find that a big wad of money has landed in your bank account that you’re not expecting, then don’t rush out and buy that new Prada bag or Porsche. You're not legally required to contact your bank and let it know about any unexpected payment.

However, if you do find unexpected cash in your account, you should still let the bank know. It's illegal to spend the money, so your best bet is to just keep a note, as explained above, of the amount that came into your account, the date it appeared, and any correspondence that you have with your bank about it.

I’m a bit concerned this might happen to me, what can I do to avoid it? Don’t worry, part of the voluntary agreement also saw banks put in more processes to make it difficult for someone to be able to do this, such as getting rid of the auto fill function. In addition, there are things you can do to avoid this.

The best advice, especially if you have a big sum of money to transfer, is to send a small amount first. Check with the recipient to make sure it gets to the intended account, then send the larger amount using the same details.

Other simple tips include always double-checking the sort code (you can check it or find sort codes at Payments UK) and account number when sending a payment and checking the amount and payment reference, particularly if you are paying a business or paying a bill.

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