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Having a bank account should be made a legal right for the 10% of EU citizens who currently do not have one, including homeless people, those on very low incomes, students, people with no credit record and expatriate workers, said the Economic and Monetary Affairs Committee on Thursday. MEPs called on the Commission to table legislation by January 2013 to tackle this financial exclusion. Low-cost payment accounts for everyday transactions must be offered to all, the resolution says.

"I am very happy that MEPs have shown their strong support to introduce a legal right for access to basic payment accounts. In our increasingly modern societies, cash payments are losing in importance daily. It is therefore hard to live a normal life – even to find a job or rent a flat – for citizens without a payment card or bank account", said rapporteur Jürgen Klute after MEPs voted 36 in favour and 2 against.

Soft approach not working

Legislation is needed at EU level because simple Commission recommendations have yielded the desired results in only a few countries.  Moreover, those countries that have enforced national laws to address this problem have seen the number of citizens without bank accounts fall, the resolution says. Legislation is needed because the banking industry tends to focus on commercially attractive consumers rather than providing simple payment account products.

The cheapest option with no strings attached ...

The basic payment account must always be cheaper than any alternative offered by a given institution, the resolution says.  The main goal is to offer everyone a basic no-frills system with which to pay bills.

Banks and other institutions offering payment accounts must not be able to refuse to grant such an account on grounds such as low income, type of employment, credit history, or level of indebtedness for example.  Most importantly, they must not be allowed to make the basic account conditional on the purchase of other products or services, adds the text.

Finally, the resolution specifically instructs Member States to help those with no fixed address to meet the due diligence requirements required for opening such an account.

...  which allows all basic transactions

The basic account would allow a person to carry out any essential payment transaction such as receiving income or benefits, paying bills or taxes, buying goods and services, making cash withdrawals, and printing account statements.

In the chair: Sharon Bowles (ALDE, UK)