Money in a Bank Account Is Not Property - Guideline Court of Appeal Ruling

Money in a bank account represents the debt due from the bank to the account holder and is not 'property' in the eyes of the law. The Court of Appeal made that point in quashing the convictions of a woman who was accused of abusing her position as a senior employee of a housing charity to steal almost £50,000.

The woman was alleged to have put in falsely inflated claims for overtime and other payments and was jailed for 16 months after a jury convicted her of six counts of theft. The payments had been signed off by a payroll company that was used by the charity and by the chair of its board of trustees.

In ruling on her appeal, however, the Court noted that the charity's bank balance was, in legal terms, a 'chose in action' (essentially a right to something), rather than property. The woman was not a signatory on the bank account, nor was she authorised or empowered to make payments out of the account. In the absence of that critical element of control, she could not be said to have appropriated money from the account.

Although the charges against her could readily and appropriately have been framed as offences of fraud by false representation under the Fraud Act 2006, the Court found that she had instead wrongly been charged with thefts contrary to the Theft Act 1968. Given the jury's findings of dishonesty against her, however, it was without enthusiasm that the Court allowed her appeal and overturned her convictions.