Here are some of the most frequently asked questions about Bank of England banknotes.
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Are old Bank of England notes worthless?
No; all Bank of England notes retain their face value for all time. If your local bank, building society or Post Office is not willing to accept these notes then they can be exchanged with the Bank of England in London. For more information on how to exchange Bank of England banknotes that have been withdrawn from circulation see the exchanging banknotes page.
What is the Bank’s “Promise to Pay”?
The words "I promise to pay the bearer on demand the sum of five [ten/twenty/fifty] pounds" date from long ago when our notes represented deposits of gold. At that time, a member of the public could exchange one of our banknotes for gold to the same value. For example, a £5 note could be exchanged for five gold coins, called sovereigns. But the value of the pound has not been linked to gold for many years, so the meaning of the promise to pay has changed. Exchange into gold is no longer possible and Bank of England notes can only be exchanged for other Bank of England notes of the same face value. Public trust in the pound is now maintained by the operation of monetary policy, the objective of which is price stability.
What type of UV lamp should I use to check that a banknote is genuine?
A good quality ultra violet (UV) lamp that emits light at around 365 nanometres is best for checking the ultra-violet features on all notes (except the old-style £50 note does not have ultra-violet features). The use of LED (Light Emitting Diode) devices (such as key fob type detectors) is not recommended as the majority of these emit light at greater than 365 nanometres.
Retailers are reminded not to just check one security feature but to check a few such as the feel of the paper and the raised print, the watermark and metallic thread. Details on the checks to make can be found in the leaflet “Take a Closer Look” which is available free from the Bank of England.
Can I use a “detector pen” to check that banknotes are genuine?
Simple tests reveal that some (but not all) counterfeit notes can be detected using such pens. The pens work by a chemical reaction between the pen ink and the paper. Using such pens is not a foolproof method of checking that a banknote is genuine because some counterfeits may be configured to react in the same way as genuine banknotes. Unreliability can also occur if pens are old or dirty. To check banknote authenticity retailers are reminded to check several of the security features on banknotes such as the feel of the paper and the raised print, the watermark and metallic thread. Details on the checks to make can be found in the leaflet “take a closer look” which is available free from the Bank of England.
How do I check whether a note is genuine or not?
Take your time to check your notes, particularly if light conditions are poor or you are handling a large number of notes.
Never rely on just one security feature; no counterfeit notes successfully copy all of the security features included in Bank of England notes. To read about how to check your banknotes see the security features page.
What should I do if I think I have been given a counterfeit note?
If you think a note that you have is a counterfeit you must take it to the police as soon as you can. They will provide you with a receipt and send the counterfeit to the Bank of England for analysis. If the note is genuine reimbursement will be made in full.
A counterfeit note is completely worthless and it is a criminal offence to hold or to pass on a note which you know to be counterfeit.
Don’t get caught out by the counterfeiter; always check your banknotes.
What can I do if I have a note that has been damaged in some way?
Banknotes get damaged or contaminated in a number of different ways; this doesn’t render the note worthless and the Bank has a small dedicated team based at its cash centre in Leeds that deals with all manner of mutilated notes. Full details of how claims can be made are contained in the Damaged and Mutilated Notes section of this site.
If you require further information or advice please contact the Bank’s cash centre in Leeds on 0113 2441711.
What is on a banknote to help blind and partially sighted people identify the different denominations?
Each denomination is a different size; the greater the value the larger the note. So a £10 note is larger than a £5 note and so on. There is a densely coloured shape on the front of the £5, £10 and old-style £50 notes some notes that are unique to each denomination - a turquoise circle on the £5, an orange diamond on the £10, and a red triangle on the old-style £50. The £5, and £10 notes also have large denomination numerals on the front of the note. The £20 and new-style £50 notes do not require a separate recognition symbol because the denomination numerals are prominently displayed in the clear white area of the notes.
Has the Bank considered using Braille on banknotes to help blind people identify the different denominations?
The Bank is always considering ways to improve our notes for all users. We have investigated Braille but understand from the Royal National Institute for Blind People that very few blind people now read Braille; it is also regarded as a feature that may well wear out over the life of a banknote and therefore only serve to mislead if a tactile feature of this type became incomplete. We do not therefore plan to incorporate Braille.
Who decides who the historical figure should be on the back of a new note?
It is the Governor of the Bank of England who makes the final decision. The Bank have celebrated the lives of eminent British personalities on the back of their notes since 1970. It is usual practice to consider a number of probable candidates all of whom have been selected because of their indisputable contribution to their particular field of work and about whom there exists sufficient material on which to base a banknote design.
What happens to the old style notes when a new design is introduced?
Both old and new notes usually circulate together for a while. The old style notes are then withdrawn from circulation as they became unfit to be re-issued. At a point in time – dependent on the life of the denomination in question – the decision is made to withdraw all of the old design and at this point legal tender status is withdrawn.
How much notice is given before a banknote is to be withdrawn?
Legally the Bank is required to give one months notice of an intention to withdraw legal tender status. In practice every effort is given to provide as much notice as possible and, when withdrawing the old style £20 in 2010, three months’ notice was given.
How is this advertised?
The Bank provides leaflets and posters for banks, building societies, Post Offices, shops and the like that gives the relevant details about the withdrawal of the note in question including how and where notes can be exchanged. Information also appears on the Bank’s web site and adverts are taken out in the national and local press.
What information is there available about banknotes and in particular the dates when certain notes were first issued?
In addition to the information about the key recognition and secuity features on the Banknote pages you can also find a list of other sources of information under the ‘more about banknotes’ main menu heading. A reference guide about banknotes is available from the Bank and this includes the dates certain notes were issued.
Are Scottish & Northern Ireland notes "legal tender"?
In short ‘No’ these notes are not "legal tender"; furthermore, Bank of England notes are only legal tender in England and Wales. Legal tender has, however, a very narrow technical meaning in relation to the settlement of debt. If a debtor pays in legal tender the exact amount he/she owes under the terms of a contract (and in accordance with its terms), or pays this amount into court, he/she has good defence in law if he/she is sued for non-payment of the debt.
In ordinary everyday transactions, the term "legal tender" in its purest sense need not govern a note's acceptability in transactions. The acceptability of a Scottish or Northern Ireland note as a means of payment is essentially a matter for agreement between the parties involved. If both parties are in agreement, Scottish and Northern Ireland notes can be used in England and Wales. Holders of genuine Scottish and Northern Ireland notes are provided with a level of protection similar to that provided to holders of Bank of England notes. This is because the issuing banks must back their note issue using a combination of Bank of England notes, UK coin and funds in an interest bearing bank account at the Bank of England. More information on these arrangements can be found at
I need to reproduce a banknote for a legitimate reason but how do I do this?
It is possible to reproduce images of banknotes but there are specific guidelines under which this can be done. It is best to refer directly to the Reproduction guidelines that explains the procedure in more detail.
If you require further information or advice please contact the Bank at firstname.lastname@example.org or on +44(0)20 7601 4028.
Can I still use the old-style £50 note?
You can continue to use the old-style £50 note, featuring Sir John Houblon, until it is withdrawn from circulation. A date for withdrawal will be announced in due course with at least three months’ notice given. Genuine Bank of England banknotes that have been withdrawn from circulation retain their face value for all time and can be exchanged with the Bank of England.
Why did the Bank change the Chief Cashiers signature on some of its banknotes in September 2012?
Chris Salmon replaced Andrew Bailey as the Chief Cashier in April 2011. Banknotes bearing Chris Salmon's signature started being issued into circulation to reflect this as part of the Promissory Clause on each banknote in September 2012.
Is there anything different about the banknotes with Chris Salmon's signature on?
Other than the signature change, the banknotes and their security features look identical to the notes bearing Andrew Bailey's signature. 'Andrew Bailey' notes remain in circulation; they retain their legal tender status and can continue to be used normally. The Chris Salmon notes were manufactured using new printing technology, which involves the manufacture of printing plates directly from computer generated graphical information, known as 'Computer to Plate' technology, commonly referred to as 'CTP' in the Printing Industry.
Are ‘Andrew Bailey’ signed notes still legal tender?
Yes. Designs of the £5 (Fry), £10 (Darwin), £20 (Smith) and £50 (Houblon), bearing Andrew Bailey's signature are co-circulating with Chris Salmon signed notes. There are also still a small number of notes in circulation which bear the signatures of Merlyn Lowther and Graham Kentfield which still have legal tender status. More information on current banknotes can be found at http://www.bankofengland.co.uk/banknotes/Pages/about/chief_cashiers.aspx