How sort codes work

I have made a fascinating discovery today. Not everyone with the same bank has the same sort code! I did not know this :person_shrugging:

So everyone with Starling does as they have no branches but the two middle digits normally relate to a specific branch.

I’m hoping I’m not the only one who didn’t know this…

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You might be :grimacing::blush:


Probably more than that. My three RBS account sort codes have 0 digits that are the same across the three.

I have multiple sort codes for my Nationwide accounts. Up until a number of years most banks (not building societies) would have given you a sort code for your specific branch. Some still do e.g. if you use the special form you can get specific RBS branches rather than the usual call centre one.

LBG brands still allocate you to your nearest open branch, unless you already have an account open - although my recently opened Bank of Scotland account is at a branch in Edinburgh (nearest would be Berwick I presume). Perhaps once you’re a certain distance away from a branch they plonk you in a default?

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I think their allocation system looks at your postcode, rather than geographical distance. When I opened my first Lloyds account, online, they gave me a sort code for a branch six miles away, despite there being three or four other Lloyds branches closer to my address, -one of them within 15 minutes walk. On checking the addresses, I noticed that the first two characters of the postcode of my allocated branch matched the first part of my own postcode, whereas the postcodes of the nearer branches were different.


I think this is an age thing. In that anyone lucky enough like me who is old enough to remember the days when you had to go into branch and open an account in person would likely connect the reason for the sort code being as it is (or not, probably they don’t)

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The LBG logic isn’t that great.

Halifax opened my account at a random branch in Leeds and Lloyds opened mine at a random branch in central London. I’m near neither.

BOS used to open up new on-line customer (current) accounts at their George St, Edinburgh branch for no discernable reason.

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Sort Codes can get full up. Maybe Lloyds/Halifax are now allocating customers to any sort codes where they’ve got plenty of spare accounts available?

Ulster seem to open all new accounts using the Ballycastle sortcode, I suspect simply because that’s the first branch in alphabetic order.

Could it be because of the planned massive closures happening that they are now allocating people sort codes of certain branches?

Same. I have both sole and joint accounts with Nationwide that I opened online and both have different sort codes. Indeed I have no idea where the sort codes for both accounts are allocated to and neither do I care. Exactly the same when I had my RBS account, Edinburgh allocated and I live in the SouthWest.

Surely for most people now, sort codes in terms of which branch they are actually allocated to, are an irrelevance?


Nationwide’s sort codes have never been branch specific; they just start using new ones as the old ones get full up.
They also tend to have different sort codes for savings accounts as opposed to current accounts.

The point I was making really, is that sort code locations are now pretty much an irrelevance in respect of location allocation. Eventually, they’ll be no physical branches left, so it doesn’t matter what sort code one gets as long as you have one.

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Completely. With Natwest since I went, years ago, to open it in Branch I have the local town one.

With HSBC I’ve got their national one as I suspect most people have. They didn’t choose to use the one for the “local” branch 50 minutes away, not that it really matters.

I’m not sure anyone ever suggested it mattered for any real reason having a sort code relating to a nearby branch (unless you happen to live near Farnborough or London and bank with RBS…). It’s just a sweet if outdated little relic, most of the time.

When I was doing grocery shopping during Covid for an elderly neighbour she cut me a cheque and I noticed it was Welsh and English bilinguil. It triggered a conversation about how she came to open her Lloyds account in Pwllheli years ago. Totally “not needed” but nice to know all the same.

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The Nationwide has (I think) always allocated sort codes based on the type of account you open. So, each type of savings account has a specific sort code and I imagine each type of current account does too (I’ve only the one current account with them so can’t check that).

On a tangent, Ireland was (is?) in the BACS system so you could at one time do a BACS transfer to there. Presumably not now that they use Euros, but maybe somebody could give that a whirl to see.

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The ex-building societies tended to have centralised sort codes whilst clearing banks had branch based sort codes.

The local sort codes (8x for Scotland and 9x for NI & ROI) were important as cheques would often clear quicker intra-nation than UK wide (3 days v 5 days)

You could always use BACS with NI sort codes but not ROI since they used the Punt before the Euro.


I think you could use BACS for Ireland as for many years it was 1 pound = 1 punt. Even after that you could use an NI bank card in their Irish counterpart bank as if it were a local card (i.e. no overseas charges).

I suspect you probably could still do a BACS payment to an Irish account as I doubt that they’ve switched off all of the links. That said, who knows what the charges would work out at.

My thinking that this will work is that payments to banks which say they don’t support Swift do work if you work out what the appropriate BIC etc should be. I know some have tried with Monzo and Chase doing this.

The fixed Punt/Sterling link was broken in 1979 so you must be talking a while ago.

They still have same format sort code and account numbers in ROI but they tend to use IBAN mostly these days as part of the Eurozone.

Mainland UK (England) tends to get NI and ROI confused. Probably doesn’t help that Bank of Ireland issues Sterling notes in NI even though like Bank of Scotland they aren’t a Central Bank.