Basic bank accounts are failing to meet the needs of the people they were introduced to help, research claimed today.
The accounts were brought in five years ago in an attempt to increase financial inclusion among people on low incomes who did not have banking facilities.
They do not have an overdraft option, and in some cases don't even have a cheque book or debit card.
Despite nearly six million of the accounts being opened, research by the National Consumer Council found that more than half of people on low incomes still preferred to manage their money in cash.
Those who had opened one of the accounts were more likely to lose control of their finances and be in arrears on their household bills than those who did not have one.
The group, which carried out the research with social research consultancy Policis, said the accounts were not meeting the needs of the people they were aimed at and should be more flexible.
It said they should offer people weekly direct debits that fit in better with lowincome budgeting cycles, a small fee-free overdraft to act as a buffer zone and more flexibility in spreading payments for things across a number of months.
Claire Whyley, NCC deputy head of policy, said: "There is a mismatch between the needs of the poorest to keep close track of their income and spending and to avoid debt, and existing basic bank account design which doesn't help them achieve this.
"Making sure people get the benefits of access to financial services isn't just about how many people have bank accounts - it's about designing services that meet their needs. Financial inclusion is more than a numbers game."
The NCC said the accounts were failing to overcome the barriers to financial inclusion and people on low incomes were continuing to rely on high-cost borrowing from door step lenders or even loan sharks.
It said around eight million people on low-incomes could not get mainstream credit, and the Social Fund, the Government's interest-free loan scheme which acts as a safety net, was not working effectively.
It said one in five applications for a Social Fund loan was refused, many then going to loan sharks.