Banknote FAQs

Frequently questions about our banknotes

About our new £20 note

  • We issued our new polymer £20 note on 20 February 2020.
  • The artist JMW Turner features on the new £20 note.
  • We haven’t said when the paper £20 note will stop being legal tender, but we will give six months’ notice of this withdrawal date.

About our next £50 note

  • It will enter circulation in 2021.
  • The mathematician Alan Turing will feature on it. We chose Turing using our character selection process.
  • You will still be able to use the paper £50 note until we withdraw it from circulation. We will announce the withdrawal date after we have issued our new £50 note.

Exchanging old banknotes

  • Many banks accept withdrawn notes as deposits from customers. The Post Office will also accept withdrawn notes as a deposit into any bank account you can access at the Post Office. And you can always exchange withdrawn notes with us.
  • We can only exchange old banknotes issued by the Bank of England. To exchange old foreign currency, you should contact the banknote issuer in the relevant country.
  • You can exchange old Bank of England banknotes by post.
  • There is no limit on the total amount of banknotes you can exchange. You may need to fill in one of our forms or provide photo identification (ID) and proof of address. 

    Find out what you need to do in Exchanging banknotes by post or Exchanging banknotes in person on our website.

  • No, all Bank of England banknotes are worth their face value for all time, so you can exchange a banknote of any age.

Checking banknotes are genuine

  • We provide a range of free education materials about our notes and their security features. These include leaflets and posters that can be downloaded or ordered online, as well as short films and online training.

  • A UV lamp that emits light at around 365 nanometres is ideal for checking the fluorescent features on all our notes. We do not advise using LED (light emitting diode) devices, such as key-fob style detectors because these often emit light above 365 nanometres.
  • Detector pens won’t spot any future counterfeits printed on polymer. They work by reacting with the starch present in ‘normal’ paper. They can detect some counterfeits printed on paper, but not all. If you do use one, remember old or dirty pens can be unreliable.
  • Contact the police if you suspect a note is counterfeit. They will give you a receipt and send the note to us for analysis. If the Police tell you the note is not required to support a criminal investigation, you can take it to your bank as a suspect counterfeit. If it is genuine, you will be reimbursed.

    If you are a retailer or business, see the Banknote Checking Scheme section on our website for advice on what to do with counterfeit notes.

Banknote features for blind and partially sighted people

  • Each banknote denomination is a different size. The higher the value of a note, the larger it is.

    On the front of the polymer notes (the side with raised print), the value can be identified by the number of areas of raised dots in the top left corner. The £5 has none, £10 has two and the £20 has three clusters.

  • We have investigated braille, but understand from the Royal National Institute of Blind People that many partially sighted people do not read braille. Braille is also language-specific, which means any braille we used would only make sense in English.

Damaged banknotes

  • We will reimburse you the full amount for genuine notes that have been accidentally damaged (provided there are sufficient fragments or remains). As a general rule, there should be evidence of at least half the note. See damaged and contaminated banknotes.
  • We can only exchange damaged banknotes issued by the Bank of England. To exchange damaged foreign currency, you should contact the banknote issuer in the relevant country.
  • Whilst polymer notes are more durable, they are not indestructible. Over time they will be subject to wear, which can include damage to the foil. As part of the banknote lifecycle, worn banknotes are eventually removed from circulation and replaced with new notes. We remove hundreds of millions of worn banknotes from circulation every year.

    If your note is heavily damaged we will exchange it for a new note.

General banknote questions

  • Like any other surface that large numbers of people come into contact with, banknotes can carry bacteria or viruses. However, the risk posed by handling a banknote is no greater than touching any other common surface, such as handrails, doorknobs or credit cards.
  • We do not produce commemorative notes as such, although depicting a celebrated person on the back of each, is a form of commemoration.

  • The words ‘I promise to pay the bearer on demand the sum of five/ten/twenty/fifty pounds’ appear on all of our notes. This phrase dates 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 of the same value. For example, a £5 note could be exchanged for five gold coins, called sovereigns.

    However, the value of the pound has not been linked to gold for many years, so the meaning of the promise to pay has changed. You can no longer exchange banknotes for gold. You can only exchange them for other Bank of England banknotes of the same face value. 

  • Legal tender is a term that people often use, but when it comes to what can or can’t be used to pay for things, it has little practical use. 

    Legal tender has a very narrow and technical meaning, which relates to settling debts. It means that if you are in debt to someone, you can’t be sued for non-payment if you offer full payment of your debts in legal tender.

    What is classed as legal tender varies throughout the UK. In England and Wales, Royal Mint coins and Bank of England notes are legal tender. 

    In Scotland and Northern Ireland, only Royal Mint coins are legal tender. Throughout the UK, there are some restrictions when using the lower-value coins as legal tender. For example, 1p and 2p coins only count as legal tender for any amount up to 20p.
  • Our Chief Cashier’s signature is on every one of our banknotes. Chief Cashiers sign banknotes on behalf of the Bank of England to demonstrate our promise to pay the value of the note for all time. 

    Our banknotes are periodically updated to reflect the current Chief Cashier’s name. There are some notes in circulation with the signatures of previous Chief Cashiers. These remain legal tender.
  • Under the Currency and Banknotes Act 1928, it is illegal to deface our banknotes (by printing, writing or impressing upon them words, letters or figures, etc). The police and courts will decide whether they will prosecute if this happens.
  • The Queen is always on the front of our notes. But when we issue a new banknote, the Banknote Character Advisory Committee chooses a field to celebrate on the note and we invite the public to nominate who they think should appear on it. We call the people on the back of our notes ‘characters’. Then, our Banknote Character Advisory Committee creates a short-list and presents it to our Governor, who makes the final choice.
     
    We used this process for the first time in 2015 when we picked the character for the polymer £20 note, JMW Turner. We used it more recently in 2019 to choose the face of our new polymer £50 note, when we had 227,299 nominations from the public. The character on the new £50 note will be the mathematician Alan Turing.
  • We have produced banknotes since shortly after we were founded in 1694. You can see examples of every note we’ve ever made in the Bank of England Museum

    The museum also has artwork by banknote designers; machinery and equipment relating to banknote production; and examples of counterfeit and imitation notes. It is the largest collection of Bank of England notes and associated material in the world.

Production of banknotes

  • Our banknotes are printed in Essex, by De La Rue Currency. They contain components from a wide range of suppliers.
  • The material for our paper banknotes is made by a specialist paper manufacturer. Most paper is made out of wood pulp, but the paper we use for our banknotes is manufactured from cotton. The banknotes have special security features to make them difficult to counterfeit.
  • In 2016 we issued our first banknote made of polymer: a thin, flexible plastic material. The polymer used in our banknotes is polypropylene, which is formed into a durable yet lightweight plastic film. It is coated with layers of special ink, which carry the printed design of a banknote. The polymer material allows us to include ‘windows’ or clear sections in the design, which makes them harder to counterfeit.
  • No. Our direct involvement in wholesale cash distribution is limited to issuing new banknotes, withdrawing banknotes when a new series is launched, and destroying banknotes that are no longer fit for circulation.
  • Since 2011, we have recycled most of our old paper banknotes. They are either used to create a soil improver or processed at a local energy recovery facility to generate electricity. 

    As composting is not suitable for polymer notes, we commissioned an independent third-party to conduct a lifecycle study assessing the environmental impacts of different waste treatment options. The study used international standards (ISO 14040:2006 and 14044:2006) for the assessment and it was externally reviewed by a panel of industry experts. Recycling was the most favourable option. As a result, we have secured a UK-based recycling solution, which will see polymer banknotes turned into pellets before being transformed into new plastic items such as plant pots.

Polymer banknotes

  • Polymer is a thin and flexible plastic material.
  • We decided to move to polymer notes because they are cleaner, safer and stronger than paper notes. Polymer notes provide enhanced counterfeit resilience and increase the quality of notes in circulation. They are also more environmentally friendly than paper notes because they last longer and can be recycled into new plastic items.
  • All Bank of England notes are changing from paper to polymer. We issued the £5 in September 2016, the £10 in September 2017 and the £20 note on 20 February 2020. The new polymer £50 note will enter circulation in 2021.
  • New polymer notes can feel slippery. They feel less slippery after they have been in circulation for a while. 

    Polymer notes have areas of raised print, which make them more tactile.
  • Brand-new polymer notes can sometimes stick together, as can brand-new paper notes.
  • Polymer notes begin to shrink and melt at temperatures above 120°C. For example, they can be damaged by an iron.

  • Polymer notes are increasingly used around the world because of their advantages over paper notes. Over 30 countries currently issue polymer notes. These include Australia (who introduced them in 1988), New Zealand, Mexico, Singapore, Canada and Fiji. 
  • In 2016, we found out there is a trace of animal-derived product in our £5 polymer notes. Our investigation discovered that a tiny amount of tallow (less than one part per thousand) is used in an early stage of the production process of polymer pellets. These pellets are used to create the base substrate for our polymer notes.  

    We did not know about this issue when we signed the contract for our polymer supply. During our research, we found out that many household goods use animal-derived additives. For example, cosmetics, plastic carrier bags and household detergent bottles. They are also commonly used to make plastics for other payment methods, eg debit and credit cards and mobile phones.

    The only currently viable alternative for polymer notes is to use chemicals ultimately derived from palm oil. We asked the public what they thought about both of these options in a full public consultation.  We provided a range of relevant information, including outreach and discussions with potentially affected groups. 

    After careful consideration, we decided not to change the composition of polymer we use for our banknotes. Some of the important issues we considered thoroughly were: 

    • our responsibility to issue and maintain the supply of high-quality and secure banknotes
    • our obligations under the Equality Act 2010
    • concerns about the use of animal-derived products.

    You can read more about our decision on the composition of polymer banknotes

  • Our Q&A library for retailers and businesses offers advice and guidance on adapting cash handling machines.

Note Circulation Scheme

  • The Note Circulation Scheme (NCS) governs the distribution, processing and storage of our banknotes. It provides a framework for the wholesale commercial cash industry, which helps encourage efficiencies in their banknote operations. Legal agreements and rules underpin how the NCS operates. The following companies are members of the NCS:

    • G4S Cash Solutions
    • Post Office
    • National Westminster Bank
    • Vaultex UK
  • Note Circulation Scheme members supply banknotes to their customers from a number of cash centres around the UK. Banknotes enter circulation when they have been distributed by the Note Circulation Scheme members to banks, building societies, automated teller machine (ATM) operators and large retailers.

    Public demand for banknotes varies throughout the year. It increases significantly around Christmas, Easter, other bank holidays and major public events.
  • For more details on how the Note Circulation Scheme (NCS) works, see our Note Circulation Scheme webpage.

Retailers and other businesses

  • We offer online banknote training as well as a range of short films about our notes and their security features. You can also download our free training materials or order them online – see information for retailers and businesses.
  • Our free Banknote Checking Scheme promotes banknote checking at point of sale by keeping businesses up-to-date with the latest information and training tools. Its aim is to reduce the number of counterfeit notes being accepted and to reduce losses to businesses. Sign up as a supporter of the Banknote Checking Scheme.
  • The Banknote Checking Scheme is the best way for businesses to keep up-to-date with all relevant information, but anyone with an interest in banknotes can sign up to our Banknote Bulletin email.
  • We can give banknote-equipment manufacturers access to test new banknotes before they are issued. For more information, email cashindustry.enquiries@bankofengland.co.uk.
  • We encourage manufacturers of machines that automatically check, accept or sort notes to test their machines' capabilities at the Bank of England. Re-testing is required annually and successful machines are listed on our website. This process helps to maintain confidence in our notes and allows companies to make informed choices about the equipment they use/buy. See Information for retailers and businesses.
  • Cash-handling machines will need to be adapted for the new banknotes. This includes self-service checkouts, ATMs, ticket machines, and any other machine that weighs, counts, sorts, accepts, dispenses or recycles banknotes.

    This will likely require a software update, which is normal practice when a new banknote design is issued. Additional hardware upgrades may be required for some machines because of the change to a new material and the reduction in banknote size.

    If your business uses cash-handling machines, you should engage directly with the machine manufacturer to discuss what adaptations will be required. Before purchasing a new machine, you should ask if it is compatible with the new banknotes.

    We have a list of machine manufacturers that have been offered access to test banknotes. If your manufacturer is not listed, please let us know at cashindustry.enquiries@bankofengland.co.uk.

  • Sometimes, retailers and businesses use banknotes received from customers to fill their own note-dispensing machines, like ATMs and self-service tills. This is known as local recycling. In these situations, notes are not returned to the Note Circulation Scheme (NCS) and authenticated. The Bank and the cash industry sponsor a local recycling code, to encourage retailers and business to authenticate banknotes when they are locally recycled.

Banknote serial numbers

  • We donate some banknotes with significant or low serial numbers to people or institutions that were involved in developing the note or who traditionally receive a note when a new series is issued. For example, the Queen receives AA01 000001. 
  • Certain examples of our notes may be of interest to collectors. We cannot advise in this respect, since banknotes are only ever ‘worth’ their face value to us. If you want to find out whether certain banknotes have any additional worth, we suggest you approach a banknote dealer.

Using images of banknotes

  • We allow you to use images of our banknotes if you comply with our reproduction conditions. Find out what you need to know before you use images of our banknotes.
  • You can download images of banknotes that meet our conditions from our current banknotes image library and our withdrawn notes gallery.
  • No – as long as you have met our conditions you do not need our approval.
  • You don’t need to. Our banknote reproductions policy was updated in February 2019 so formal application and approval is no longer required. We also no longer impose a time limit on our reproduction permissions.
  • No. This is considered a novelty banknote and does not meet our conditions. There have been cases of banknotes that have been altered in this way being mistakenly accepted as genuine.
  • No. This is considered a novelty banknote and does not meet our conditions. A solid text box can be added to the note or text can be printed on the back.
  • Anything that isn’t paper-based or thin, flexible plastic (eg ceramic, towels and cardboard).
  • No. Banknote reproductions must be an exact copy or bear no resemblance to our banknotes or contain none of their design elements. 

    If your reproduction does not have any of our banknote features on it, we would consider this a ‘voucher’ rather than a banknote. So it would not need to meet our reproduction requirements.

  • No – we are only responsible for Bank of England banknotes. You will need to check with The Royal Mint to find out what you need to do if you want to use images of coins.
  • No. We are responsible for Bank of England banknotes only so our conditions only apply to our banknote images. 

    For Scottish and Northern Ireland banknotes, you need to check with the relevant Scottish or Northern Ireland issuing banks. Please see the Association of Commercial Banknote Issuers website for contact details. For Treasury banknotes issued between 1914 and 1928, you need to check with the Debt Management Office.

Other banknotes and coins

  • Please visit our UK notes and coins webpage.
  • The Isle of Man, Jersey and Guernsey are outside the United Kingdom so they issue their own banknotes. You can find more information from the following sources: 

  • Some towns and cities in the UK have launched their own local currencies, often in the form of physical vouchers. These are often used to encourage people to spend more in local shops and businesses. 

    These schemes all work in different ways, but it is important to remember that local currencies do not give you the same level of protection as Bank of England banknotes. Although local currencies may sometimes look like banknotes, they are not linked in any way to the Bank of England, and they are not legal tender. So if a local currency scheme fails, we cannot provide compensation.
  • Please visit our Scottish and Northern Ireland banknotes webpage for information. 
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This page was last updated 23 March 2020
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