People who accidentally send a mobile, online or phone banking payment to the wrong bank account will be given more help getting it back, under new safeguards brought in this week.

If you've sent a payment to the wrong account by mistake, here's what you need to know.

  • You should contact your bank as soon as possible to let it know about the mistake.
  • All banks processing digital transactions through the payments services Faster Payments and Bacs must now take action within two working days of being alerted.
  • In cases where the recipient doesn't dispute that the money was sent to them by mistake, it will then be returned to its rightful owner within 20 working days.

See our What to do if you send money to the wrong bank account guide for full help – we've outlined the key points below.

What new protection do people have as a result of this week's changes?

The changes brought in by Faster Payments and Bacs build on voluntary measures introduced by many leading banks in 2014, with the Payments Council drawing up a code of practice setting specific maximum time limits for banks to help customers.

A spokesperson for Faster Payments says the safeguards brought in this week are “entirely separate from measures set by the Payments Council in 2014, but aim to further strengthen the procedures already in place". From this week:

  • The protection offered by the Payments Council's voluntary code of practice has been extended to all high street banks when they process Faster Payments and Bacs. This means customers of banks that weren't previously signed up, such as Citi and Northern Bank, now get the same protection.
  • This protection means when customers believe they've sent money to the wrong account, banks will take action within two days and investigate and report the outcome of their investigation within 20 working days.
  • The process for investigating possible errors has now also changed. A bank will contact the recipient of a payment when an error has been flagged, and the recipient has 20 working days to reply. Previously, if they didn't reply, the money wouldn't be reclaimed – however now if there is no reply the money will be reclaimed.

Does this protection apply to all payments?

Bacs and Faster Payments are used by all major UK banks and account for 95% of digital and online transactions.

The remaining 5% of digital and online transactions are from smaller agency banks, which don't process transactions themselves. These transactions aren't yet covered by the new measures but will be later in 2016.

So what should I do if I've sent money to the wrong account?

If you believe you've made a mistake, you should:

  • 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, and minimise the chance of the money you've sent being withdrawn from the recipient's account.
  • Keep a note of all correspondence you have with the bank and also make a 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.

See our What to do if you send money to the wrong account guide for full help.

What if my claim is disputed?

If your mistake's genuine, it is unlikely the recipient will dispute your claim, particularly as anyone who spends money not belonging to them is committing a crime and can be reported to the police.

In cases where there are disputes over claims, and it is not possible to reclaim the payment you have sent in error, the bank will inform you of this within 20 working days and will provide clear information on your options – such as going to the Financial Ombudsman or even to court.

Sent money to the wrong bank account? Now it should be easier to get it back
Sent money to the wrong bank account? Now it should be easier to get it back

What if my money has already been spent?

According to a Faster Payments spokesperson, if money is mistakenly sent to an account and that account is in credit or in a pre-arranged agreed overdraft, it should be returnable.

But if the money is sent to an account where funds are not available – for instance, if the account is in an un-arranged overdraft – then you're unlikely to be able to get your money back. So it's vital you inform your bank as soon as you become aware of a possible error.

What if I've sent money to an account that doesn’t exist?

If you simply enter the wrong sort code, the money shouldn’t leave your account as there isn’t anywhere to process the payment.

If the sort code's correct, the money will leave your account and head to the bank the sort code belongs to. If at this point it doesn’t match with an account number, it could be held by the bank in a 'suspense account' until it's returned.

How to make sure you don't send money to the wrong account

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 reverse it. So if you think you’ve made a mistake let your bank know straightaway
  • Likewise, if you've received money into your account that you think may have been sent to you in error, make sure you notify your bank straightaway.

The Payments Council has further tips on its PayYourWay website.