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Why do some sorts of accounts not have their own account numbers? Instead they appear to pay into some sort of general account, relying on a roll number or reference to distinguish them.

My Mortgage account with Halifax and my Children's savings accounts with Nationwide both use this arrangement and to be honest I don't like it. While I'm confident this is not a scam, I do find it confusing and a little worrying.

Is there a reason why certain types of bank account seem to be associated with a common account number, and then use a secondary piece of information to distinguish who the money belongs to?

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As far as I know, this is primarily a legacy of the distinction between banks and building societies, which is now mostly invisible (and most former building societies including Halifax are now banks, with Nationwide being the biggest exception).

Typically the building society would have have transactions routed to it via an account it held itself at a bank, and then redirect them internally afterwards.

Nowadays even building societies have proper account numbers for most accounts designed for active use, such as current accounts, but the roll number setup seems to have persisted for things like savings accounts.

Some references:

https://identityandfraud.uk.experian.com/documentation/bank-wizard-api-guide-j12f/subsystems/default/country_details/roll_number_validation.htm

https://www.supportcentre-rbs.co.uk/Searchable/913218472/What-is-a-Building-Society-Roll-Number.htm

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    My guess as to why certain accounts haven't been "converted" is that it will depend on how likely they are to be used in (user-generated) electronic transactions (BACS/Faster Payments). When an "old style" account is used, you have to put the Roll Number into the Reference Field -- an additional hurdle for "ordinary users" to (a) know about and (b) perform correctly. Children's accounts, and mortgage accounts probably more likely to fall into this category than a current account. (Banks will collect mortgage payments through BACS, but can probably be trusted to fill the reference correctly). – TripeHound Feb 12 at 14:19

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