What is an account number and sort code?

Tilly Michell6 minutes
Finance
What is an account number and sort code?
In this article

When you open a UK bank account, you will be assigned an account number and sort code. The account number identifies your unique bank account and the sort code identifies the branch and bank where you opened your account. Account numbers are eight digits long and sort codes are six digits long. You may be able to find your account number and sort code printed on your debit card, but not all debit cards will show these details.

Account numbers and sort codes are used by financial institutions in the UK to facilitate money transfers. You will need to share these details with your employer, friends and, if you own a business or do freelance work, your customers in order to receive payment from them via bank transfer. Your account number and sort code can also be used to set up a direct debit.

What is a sort code?

A sort code is a six digit number which indicates the bank and the branch where you opened the account. The first digits describe the bank or provider you have the account with, and the later digits refer to the branch. Some banks and financial institutions are online-only and don’t have brick-and-mortar branches. For these banks, every customer is given the same sort code.  Six-digit sort codes in the UK date back to 1957, and were a result of the industry becoming more automated.

What is an account number?

An account number identifies your bank account and is always unique. If you have several accounts, for example a savings account and a current account, they will have different numbers, even if you hold them with the same bank.

UK account numbers are eight digits long. There are some that are seven digits, but a zero is added to the front of the number to standardise the length.

Where can I find my sort code and account number?

You may be able to find your sort code and account number printed on your debit card. However, this is not always the case. For example, Airwallex Borderless Cards do not come with bank details printed on them. That’s because our cards are multi-currency and allow you to spend from several currency account balances with one card.  

If your account number and sort code is not on your debit card, you will be able to find it in your mobile banking app, on your bank statements, or on cheques.

If your account number is printed on your card, it will appear as an eight digit number on either the front or the back of the card. Your sort code will appear as a six digit number grouped into pairs. You don’t need to worry about spacing the numbers out when entering them online.

Example of how an account number and sort code would appear on a debit card from a UK bank account

Be careful not to confuse either your account number or sort code with the 16-digit number that’s also printed on the card. This number is used to authorise online payments, along with the card expiry date and CVV, and is therefore a target for fraudsters. You should never give this number out unless you are making a secure payment with a trusted vendor. 

When is a sort code and account number required?

Banks and financial institutions use sort codes and account numbers to ensure that funds are routed correctly when facilitating various financial transactions, including:

1) Domestic transfers in the UK: A sort code and account number is used to route funds to the recipient bank during wire transfers. In order to send money via bank transfer to an account in the UK, the sender will need to provide the recipient’s account number and sort code.

2) International transfers to UK accounts: When an individual or business outside the UK makes a transfer to a UK bank account, they may be asked to provide the recipient’s account number and sort code, along with the SWIFT/BIC code. However, in some instances banks and financial institutions may ask for the recipient’s IBAN (International Bank Account Number) instead of their account number and sort code.  

3) Direct debits in the UK: Direct debit is an automated payment method which allows businesses such as utility providers and subscription services to collect recurring payments from their customers. When setting up a direct debit in the UK, the payee will be asked to provide their account number and sort code. Financial institutions use these details to ensure funds are debited from the payee’s account into the recipient account.  

Sort code, SWIFT code, BIC and IBAN: What’s the difference?

When transferring money domestically or internationally, it’s easy to get confused between the different codes you may be required to provide. Here is a breakdown of relevant codes and what they are used for:

Sort code: A sort code is a six digit number which indicates the bank and the branch where an account was opened. Sort codes (along with account numbers) are used by banks and financial institutions in the UK to facilitate Faster Payments, BACS payments, and direct debits.

SWIFT/BIC code: SWIFT codes, sometimes known as BIC codes, are used by banks and financial institutions when facilitating international payments. These codes are eight or 11 characters long and are used to identify the recipient’s bank, location, country and branch during international wire transfers.

IBAN: IBANs are used by financial institutions (largely in Europe) to identify individual bank accounts when processing international payments. An IBAN number can be up to 34 characters long and contains both numbers and letters. 

Is it safe to share your account number and sort code?

Yes, it is safe to share your account number and sort code. In fact, you’ll need to share these details any time you want someone to transfer money into your UK account. Your sort code and account number cannot be used to transfer money out of your account, only to put money in it, or to set up a direct debit. 

Direct debits allow companies to take automatic payments from customers. You may wish to use direct debit to pay regular bills or to set up a subscription. Only companies that have been vetted by the Direct Debit Scheme can use your account number and sort code to take money from your account in this way, and your funds are always protected by the Direct Debit Guarantee. This means you do not need to worry about sharing these details with companies online or over the phone.   

If you own a business that invoices customers, you should include your account number and sort code on your invoices so your customers can pay you via bank transfer. Alternatively, Airwallex customers can include a Payment Link in their invoices and get paid in a click.

Never give out your PIN, 16-digit card number, card expiry date or CVV unless paying for something from a trusted vendor. These details can be used by fraudsters to access the funds in your account. 

Are sort codes and account numbers the same in the Republic of Ireland?

Sort codes are no longer used in the Republic of Ireland. Instead, all information is held within the account number.

As a part of the Eurozone, transactions in Ireland are processed using an IBAN (International Bank Account Number).

An IBAN has 34 characters: both numbers and letters. It identifies the bank, the specific account, and the geographical location of the branch, as well as potential routing information.

What if I provide the wrong sort code number?

If you provide the wrong sort code when making a wire transfer, the payment will likely be rejected, delayed or not processed at all. If you think you may have used an incorrect sort code when transferring money, you should contact your bank or financial institution immediately. Because sort codes are used in conjunction with account numbers to identify the recipient’s bank account, it is unlikely that simply providing an incorrect sort code will result in money being routed to the wrong account. However, problems can arise if you use both an incorrect sort code and account number when sending a wire transfer. Thieves are known to pose as well-known businesses, friends, or family of their victims. These fraudsters may contact an individual via text or email asking for money to be sent to their bank account. If you are a victim of this type of fraud and have accidentally sent money to a stranger's bank account, it is vital that you contact your bank immediately. Your bank may attempt to help you get your money back, but they are not liable for the money, meaning you might not recover it. For this reason, it is extremely important that you double check that you are using the correct account number and sort code when making a wire transfer.    

Can sort codes and account numbers be used for international transfers?

Sort codes and account numbers are used for domestic transfers within the UK and are sometimes required when making a transfer to a UK bank account from overseas. Banks and financial institutions may also require the recipient's international bank account number (IBAN) and SWIFT code along with additional details, in order to process an overseas transfer to a UK account. If you’re looking for a faster way to accept and send payments around the world, try Airwallex.

Manage money globally with Airwallex

Airwallex is a global business account designed for companies that operate across borders. We make it easier and cheaper to accept international payments, by allowing you to open 23 currency accounts in a tap, with no monthly account fees.  

Open a British Pound account with Airwallex from anywhere in the world and you will be given an account number and sort code. These account details will allow your UK clients to pay into your account easily, with no international fees or forced currency conversions.

Airwallex offers bank-beating exchange rates and zero international transaction fees, giving you a chance to cut the cost of international money transfers. You can also issue borderless Visa debit cards to your team, allowing them to spend in multiple currencies without the cost. Create new physical and virtual cards in minutes, set spending limits on a card level, and track expenditure in the app.  To find out more, sign up for a free account today.

Related article: How to switch your business bank account in the UK

Avoid sneaky fees and increase your margins with Airwallex

Back to blog

Share

Tilly Michell
Content Marketing Manager

Tilly manages the content strategy for Airwallex. She specialises in content that supports businesses in their growth trajectory.

Subscribe for our latest news and updates

Related Posts

The Top 7 Payment Processing Software & Services Providers in 2024

The Top 7 Payment Processing Software & Services Providers in 202...

5 minutes

Top 8 Payment Gateway Providers & Services in 2024
Guides

Top 8 Payment Gateway Providers & Services in 2024

6 minutes

A 2024 anatomy of an optimised cross-border checkout experience
Immy Spence

3 minutes

Watch a 3-minute demo

Enter your details below to watch the demo:

Open a business account built for growth

Airwallex Virtual Cards overlaid on the business bank account screen.

Reach new markets with foreign currency accounts

Transfer funds across the globe, without excessive fees

Empower your team to make purchasing decisions

Get started
Airwallex Virtual Cards overlaid on the business bank account screen.
Business Account
Global Accounts

© Airwallex 2024. All rights reserved. Sitemap

Cookies on the Airwallex website

We use cookies to give you a better experience on our website. If you continue without changing your settings, we’ll assume that you are happy to receive cookies. However, if you would like to, you can change your cookie any time here

Find out more