Prisoners across New Zealand are now able to obtain correct ID and open a bank account ahead of their release under a partnership between Westpac NZ and Ara Poutama Aotearoa Department of Corrections.
The ‘New Start’ scheme, which is the first of its kind in New Zealand, ensures prisoners have a valid ID, debit card and online banking access at the time they are released, to make it easier for them to reintegrate into the community.
Westpac NZ Head of Consumer Operations Jason Lock says New Start gives prisoners the best chance possible of resuming normal life.
“A bank account is like a passport to the economy. Without one it’s hard to get a job, pay the rent, receive a benefit or do many of the other things we take for granted in our lives. That’s why inclusion in the banking system is so important.”
New Start became available in all 17 Corrections facilities in December 2021, following a successful pilot programme in which over 60 prisoners opened bank accounts.
Corrections General Manager for Case Management and Probation Darius Fagan is pleased the programme is being rolled out more widely to support all prisoners throughout the country.
“Individuals who have been released have enough upheaval to deal with in their lives. Being able to sort out an ID and bank account before release removes one more set of challenges,” says Mr Fagan.
Setting up an account was often challenging for people in prison, who frequently lacked the required identity and address documents that a bank would need to open an account.
The New Start programme starts by providing someone in prison with the right ID, which can then be used to open a transactional Westpac NZ bank account with a debit card.
“The process has been made so easy and it can all be done before someone is released,” says Mr Fagan.
“They simply need to fill out the paperwork, see the onsite Justice of the Peace to get their ID verified, then we send it all off to Westpac. When their account is opened, the individual receives a welcome pack with all the information they need about their new account. Their debit card is sent to the prison, and we keep it in their property.”
Westpac NZ still carefully considers all applications for bank accounts to ensure compliance with the Anti-Money Laundering and Countering of Financing of Terrorism (AML/CFT) Act 2009.
“A small number of prisoners will have their applications declined for these reasons, but we’re taking a really open mind when we look at applications, as where possible, we’re keen to drive greater inclusion in the banking system,” says Mr Lock.
Westpac and Corrections NZ are looking forward to sharing the process with members of the New Zealand Bankers Association and hope other banks will adopt the process.
Testimonial from someone in custody at Tongariro Prison who participated in the New Start pilot programme:
Cole*: I heard about it through another inmate who was getting his bank account so I went and saw Lesley* and asked her if I could have a go. The thought of getting a bank account was a hope of a better outcome upon my release. And when I asked Lesley about going through the process of getting a bank account I was sort of apprehensive that it wasn’t even going to happen because I’ve been turned down a lot of times before due to my identity crisis/problem. So Lesley put my name down and about a week or two weeks later she gave me the forms to sign. A week after that I went up to the gate house and saw the JP and we filled out all the paperwork which was minimal really, considering. And about a week after that I got a letter from Westpac saying my account had been approved which was excellent. It was a good feeling knowing that I had a bank account to go out to. It changes everything for me.
Before, I wasn’t able to have a bank account because I’ve got several different names due to being ‘whangai-ed’ out when I was a kid and going through foster homes when I was a teenager. So I’ve had three different names which were pretty much made up names. And I didn’t find out my real name until I was in my 20s but by then I wasn’t able to access bank accounts anyway because all I had was a birth certificate, no photo ID or nothing, and none of my names matched up to who I was. So I couldn’t access a bank account or driver’s licence or anything like that. I was getting money put into other people’s accounts, and most of the time losing that money for whatever reason they took it for, so I’ve pretty much just had to use cash through my daily life and I’ve always felt that I was behind everyone else, and now with the new technologies I was really starting to feel outdated. This has actually brought me right up to now, this bank account. It’s going to make a big difference in my life, that’s for sure.
*names changed for privacy.