Sort codes, in the British and Irish banking industries, are bank codes used to route money transfers between banks within their respective countries via their respective clearance organisations. In Ireland, a sort code is known as the NSC or national sort code and is regulated by IPSO (Irish Payment Services Organisation). Although sort codes in both countries have the same format, they are regulated by different authorities as each country has its own banking system.
Sort codes for Northern Ireland branches of banks (codes beginning with a ‘9’) are registered with IPSO for both Northern Ireland and the Republic. These codes are used in both the British and Irish clearing systems.
The sort code, which is a six-digit number, is usually formatted as three pairs of numbers, for example 12-34-56. It identifies both the bank and the branch where the account is held. In some cases, the first digit of the sort code identifies the bank itself and in other cases the first two digits identify the bank. Sort codes are encoded into IBANs but are not encoded into BICs.
Codes began to be used in the early 20th century to facilitate the manual processing of cheques. Known as a ‘national code’ it would comprise anything between three and five digits.
The eleven London clearing banks were each allocated a main number, with the “big five” (and the Bank of England) allocated single-digit numbers alphabetically. Lloyds Bank for example was allocated 3 and National Provincial was allocated 5. The remaining single digit codes were used to indicate that a cheque was from outside the London clearing system. The smaller clearing banks were allocated two-digit numbers, for example Martins was allocated 11.
The bank branches were allocated further digits by their bank to make up the entire number. Some banks represented these on cheques in smaller type. Main clearing branches (usually major London branches) would bear only one digit after the main number, e.g. 111. Metropolitan branches (which covered Greater London) consisted of two digits after the main number, e.g. 1124. Country branches made up the rest of the country, and bore three or more digits after the main number, e.g. 11056. They were displayed on cheques in this fashion, with the bank identifier taking precedence.
Six-digit “sorting codes” were introduced in a staggered process from 1957 as the banking industry moved towards automation. The national codes were retained but where a single-digit was used to identify the bank a two-digit range was introduced. So, for example, Barclays codes went from starting with a 2 to 20, Midland from 4 to 40, etc.
|Clearing bank code allocations|
|1||Bank of England|
|4||Midland Bank (HSBC Bank as of 1999)|
|15||Glyn, Mills & Co.|
|16||Williams Deacon’s Bank|
|18||Coutts & Co.|
List of sort codes of the United Kingdom
In the United Kingdom the initial digits of bank sort codes were originally allocated to settlement members of the Cheque and Credit Clearing Company and the Belfast Bankers’ Clearing Company. Today, sort codes are issued to any organisation that will be a direct member of a UK electronic payment network (in addition to the cheque clearing systems, this includes BACS, Faster Payments and CHAPS). Non-standard sort codes are issued to payment service providers who need an IBAN, for example for SEPA, as the sort code forms part of this.
The allocation of sort codes is managed by BACS.
These numbers are six digits long, formatted into three pairs which are separated by hyphens.
The following list shows the first two digits of the sort codes allocated to clearing banks. Thus, in the example 01-10-01, 01 indicates that the bank is a branch of the National Westminster Bank; the other sets of digits are for internal use. This example represents the NatWest branch in Spring Gardens, Manchester. Clearing banks can act for other banks, so looking up a bank by sort code in this list does not always mean the account is actually handled by that bank, e.g. the sort code 08-32-00 HMRC VAT is not a Co-operative Bank account but a Barclays account, as is 08-32-10 for National Insurance.
Cheque and Credit Clearing Company
The cheque clearing system in Great Britain is currently managed by the Cheque and Credit Clearing Company.
In 1991 the Committee of London and Scottish Bankers, formerly the Committee of London Clearing Bankers, was wound up and its work was taken on by the British Bankers’ Association. In the following list the dates in parentheses give the year of merger with the present-day sort code holder, or its subsidiary.
|00||For IBAN use only|
|01||National Westminster Bank||Formerly District Bank (1962)|
|04||“Utility bank”||Issued to new participants in the BACS, CHAPS and Faster Payments schemes; not usable for cheques|
|05||Clydesdale Bank||Trading as Yorkshire Bank|
|07-00 to 07-49||Nationwide Building Society|
|08||The Co-operative Bank|
|08-60 to 08-61||For building societies
08-60-64 for Virgin Money
|08-90 to 08-99|
|08-30 to 08-39||Citibank||08-31 to 08-32 For UK Government banking (NS&I, HMRC etc.)|
|09-00 to 09-19||Santander UK||Formerly Abbey National (2010)|
|09-01-31 to 09-01-36 for
09-01-39 to 09-01-49 Alliance & Leicester
09-01-51 to 09-01-56 migrated accounts
|10-00 to 10-79||Bank of England||Previously used for government banking and BoE employee accounts|
|11||Bank of Scotland||For Halifax (since 1990),
earlier used by Martins Bank (1962-1969)
|12-00 to 12-69||For Sainsbury’s Bank|
|15||The Royal Bank of Scotland||Formerly Williams & Glyn’s Bank (1985),
itself formerly Glyn, Mills & Co (1970)
|15-80||For Child & Co private bank,
part of The Royal Bank of Scotland Group (1923)
|15-98 to 15-99||For C. Hoare & Co, independent private bank|
|16||The Royal Bank of Scotland||Formerly Williams & Glyn’s Bank (1985),
itself formerly Williams Deacon’s Bank (1970)
16-00-38 for Drummonds Bank, part of the Royal Bank of Scotland Group
|17||Formerly Williams & Glyn’s Bank (1985),
itself formerly The National Bank (1970)
|18||For Coutts & Co, a subsidiary of National Westminster Bank (1920)|
|20 to 29||Barclays Bank||20-11-47 for HMRC
23-00-88 for VFX Financial
23-05-80 for Metro Bank
23-14-70 for TransferWise
23-22-21 for Fire Financial Services
23-32-72 for Pockit
23-69-72 for Prepay Technologies
23-73-24 for Loot Financial Services
|30 to 39||Lloyds Bank and TSB||Formerly Lloyds TSB (2013)
and earlier for Lloyds Bank (1995)
30-00-66for Arbuthnot Latham Private Bank
|40 to 49||HSBC Bank||Formerly Midland Bank (1992)
49-99-79 to 49-99-99 for Deutsche Bank
|50 to 59||National Westminster Bank||Formerly National Provincial Bank (1968)|
|60 to 66||Formerly Westminster Bank (1968)
60-83-12 for Atom Bank
|70||Used by various international banks for their UK business: no longer issued.||Banks including the Bank of Baroda, the National Bank of Pakistan as well as Close Brothers Group and Bank Hapoalim|
|71||Bank of England||National Savings Bank|
|72[a]||Santander UK||Formerly Alliance & Leicester (2010),
itself formerly Girobank (1985)
|77-00 to 77-44||Lloyds Bank and TSB||Formerly Lloyds TSB (2013)
and earlier for Trustee Savings Bank (1995)
|77-46 to 77-99|
- ^Being phased out
Separately operated by the Committee of Scottish Clearing Bankers until 1985.
|80 to 81||Bank of Scotland|
|83||The Royal Bank of Scotland||formerly National Commercial Bank of Scotland (1969),
formerly Commercial Bank of Scotland (1959)
|84||formerly National Commercial Bank of Scotland (1969),
formerly National Bank of Scotland (1959)
|87||TSB||formerly Lloyds TSB Scotland (2013)
formerly TSB Scotland (1995)
|89-00 to 89-29||Santander UK||formerly Alliance & Leicester Commercial Bank (2010)
formerly Girobank (2003)
Belfast Bankers’ Clearing Company
The clearing system in Northern Ireland is operated under the Belfast Clearing Rules which are agreed by the Belfast Bankers’ Clearing Company (formerly the Belfast Bankers’ Clearing Committee). Sort codes in the 90 range are managed by the Irish Payment Services Organisation (IPSO).
|90||Bank of Ireland|
|91||Northern Bank||trading as Danske Bank since 2012
formerly Belfast Bank (1970)
|93||Allied Irish Banks (UK)||for First Trust Bank
formerly TSB Northern Ireland (1991)
|94||Bank of Ireland|
|95||Northern Bank||trading as Danske Bank since 2012
former Midland Bank subsidiary (1965)
|98||Ulster Bank||subsidiary of National Westminster Bank (1917)|
Sort codes of the Republic of Ireland
Sort codes are no longer directly used in the Republic of Ireland, although they still form part of the underlying structure of account numbers. As a part of the Eurozone, all aspects of the SEPA system are fully implemented and adhered to. This means that all domestic transactions, including Direct Debit and interbank transfers are processed using an IBANthrough the SEPA system. The Irish electronic clearing systems, including those run by the Irish Retail Electronic Payments Clearing Company Ltd, which entered voluntary liquidation in late 2014, have been retired and replaced by SEPA. Domestic cheques continue to be processed by the Irish Paper Clearing Company CLG.
Historically, the Irish banking system shared the sort code structure used in the UK, but operated as a separate system since the Irish Pound broke the link with Sterling in March 1979. The full list of sort codes used in Ireland is as follows:
Note: A large number of lower volume users and smaller banks share the 99 XX XX code and there are at least three users of the 93 XX XX codes assigned primarily to AIB.
|90||Bank of Ireland|
|92||Central Bank of Ireland|
|93||AIB Bank||93-09-03 for JP Morgan Bank Ireland plc
93-90-21 for EBS d.a.c.
|95||Danske Bank (Ireland)||trading as Danske Bank|
|98||Ulster Bank Ireland dac|
|99||99-00-51 to 99-00-52 Citibank Europe plc
99-00-61 to 99-00-62 Bank of America
99-03-01 An Post
99-11-99 Fire Financial Services
99-99-01 Central Bank of Ireland for the Paymaster General of Ireland
Irish Bank Resolution Corporation (IBRC)
Realex Financial Services
|99 is used by a large number of financial institutions, particular those with smaller branch networks or a single branch.|
|99-02||BNP Paribas Ireland||99-02-04 for The Royal Bank of Scotland 99-02-12 for Barclays Bank Ireland
99-03-20 for Aareal Bank
99-03-25 for CACEIS Bank
99-02-31 for HSBC Bank
99-02-40 for ING Bank
99-02-60 for Rabobank International
99-02-70 for KBC Bank Ireland
|99-04||Bank of Scotland|
|99-06 to 99-07||Permanent TSB|
|99-10||BNP Paribas Ireland for Irish Credit Unions|
|99-21 to 99-22||Irish Credit Unions|
Irish bank account numbers are now presented in the IBAN format as follows:
IE97 BANK 9799 9912 3456 78
This corresponds to the fictitious sort code: 97-99-99 and account: 12345678 Prefixed by ISO Country code: IE, IBAN check digits 97 and Bank Identifier: BANK
Sort codes in the 70 range – “walks”
Numbers starting with a ‘7’ (after the 1960s, ’70’) were reserved for the large number of London offices of banks which were not members of the London Clearing. Individual sort codes were allocated on a one-off basis to the many London offices of private and foreign banks. Cheques drawn on these banks were colloquially known within the banking industry as ‘walks’ because they were cleared by being hand-delivered (“walked”) to the drawee banks by messengers from the Clearing House. By the 1990s, all these banks had been issued with sort codes within the ranges of the various clearing banks which, from then on, acted as clearing agents for them. The practice of “walking” cheques was ended and use of the 70 code range was discontinued.
The British and Irish sort codes are only used for domestic money transfers. If money is being transferred across international borders, an international network is used. At the beginning of 2014 all European countries using the euro switched to the IBAN as a means of identifying bank accounts and previously used coding systems such as the BLZ, BIC and even account numbers are not in use anymore. However, transfers to, amongst others, the United States and Australia make use of the BIC codes. Characters 9 to 14 of British and Irish IBANs hold the bank account sort code.
In some countries there is no direct equivalent of sort codes as the bank and branch codes are maintained separately from each other in those countries. Other countries, however, have or had codes which are equivalent to sort codes, but with formats unique to the country concerned. Examples include:
- Germany/Austria: Bankleitzahl (BLZ) (superseded by and incorporated into the IBAN as part of SEPA standardization)
- Switzerland: Bankenclearing-Nummer (BC-Nummer)
- Australia: Bank-State-Branch (BSB)
- Canada: Transit Code
- Sweden: Clearingnummer
- Ukraine: MFO
- India: IFSC (Indian Financial System Code)
The codes listed above for Germany, Austria, Switzerland and Sweden are incorporated into the IBANs for those countries.
- ^ Jump up to:ab “Sort Code Information for Republic of Ireland”. Irish Payment Services Organisation Ltd. Retrieved 2010-01-25.
- ^ Jump up to:ab “About IPSO”. Irish Payment Services Organisation Limited. Retrieved 2010-01-25.
- ^“Home Page”. Irish Payment Services Organisation Limited. Retrieved 2010-01-25.
- ^“Martins Bank”. www.martinsbank.co.uk.
- ^ Jump up to:ab c “Clearing Code Rules” (PDF). UK Sort Codes Information. January 2017.
- ^Topham, Gwyn. “Bank of England to close personal banking service for employees”. The Guardian. Retrieved 8 November 2016.
- ^“Banking & Payment Federation Ireland – About us – Payments”. www.bpfi.ie. July 2018.
- ^ Jump up to:ab Capie, Forrest; Webber, Alan (1985). A Monetary History of the United Kingdom: 1870-1982. Routledge. pp. 289–290. ISBN 04 15381150.
- ^ Jump up to:ab “IBAN registry – This registry provides detailed information about all ISO 13616-compliant national IBAN formats – Release 31, November 2011” (PDF). SWIFT. Archived from the original (PDF) on 2013-11-01. Retrieved 2011-11-08.
Ofer Abarbanel is a 25 year securities lending broker and expert who has advised many Israeli regulators, among them the Israel Tax Authority, with respect to stock loans, repurchase agreements and credit derivatives. Founder of TBIL.co STATX Fund.