If you accidentally send a payment to the wrong bank account, you'll get more help in getting the money back from next month, under a new code of practice.

When you enter the wrong sort code or account number online, your money can end up in the wrong account – and it's often difficult to get back (see our guide on what to do if you send money to the wrong account).

From the end of May, most banks and building societies will offer more advice and set maximum time limits for helping customers. They will also review the design of their money transfer services to reduce the risk of mistakes.

The Payments Council, which produced the code of practice, says the changes won't guarantee customers will always recover lost money, but it will ensure people know the outcome more quickly.

So far, Adam & Company, Barclays, Clydesdale Bank, Coventry Building Society, Coutts, HSBC, Lloyds Banking Group, Nationwide, NatWest, Santander, Tesco Bank, Co-operative Bank, Royal Bank of Scotland and Ulster Bank have all signed up.

The code isn't compulsory, but the Payments Council says it expects more banks to follow suit in the coming months.

What does the code say?

It's the first time banks have agreed a common process to recover money sent to wrong accounts. Here is what customers can expect:

  • When a customer tells their bank or building society they have made a mistake, it will take action within two working days.
  • If a bank can't reclaim funds straight away – for instance, if the recipient disputes its return – it will investigate and customers will be told the outcome within 20 days.
  • If funds can't be recovered, customers will be given clear and accurate information on the options available to them, which includes taking court action against the recipient.
  • Banks and building societies will make sure their websites, apps and phone services are designed to reduce the risk of a customer making a mistake. This might involve extra warnings or asking customers to input details twice.

The Payments Council says it will monitor how the new code works to see if further changes are needed.

Take care when sending money

The Payments Council found that less than two-thirds of people (63%) know their electronic payments are addressed using the sort code and account number.

Almost half (49%) incorrectly thought the name of the recipient was checked, while 15% wrongly believed the recipient's post code was checked.

To be sure you don't make a mistake when sending a payment, follow these simple rules:

  • Always double-check the sort code and account number when sending a payment. This is the only information used to address your payment.
  • Check the amount and payment reference, particularly if you are paying a business or paying a bill.
  • Once a payment has been sent, it isn't possible to automatically reverse it. If you think you've made a mistake, it's important to act quickly. Tell your bank immediately.
  • Likewise, if you've received money into your account you think might have been sent to you in error, contact your bank straight away.

The Payments Council has further tips on its PayYourWay website.

Payments Council chief executive Adrian Kamellard says: "Sending a payment with the wrong sort code or account number is like sending a letter with the wrong post code and address – it won't reach its intended destination and can be very difficult to get back.

"The overwhelming majority of the millions of payments we send each day reach their intended destination without any problem, but if you are unlucky enough to make a mistake this new process should help."