How much money was not handed back when £20, £10 and £5 banknotes were changed?

We publish details of a selection of requests made under the Freedom of Information Act 2000, and the information we disclose in response.

Date: 22 October 2018


The Bank of England (the ‘Bank’) introduced polymer £5 and £10 banknotes which are cleaner, safer and stronger than paper banknotes. The polymer £5 banknote was issued on 13 September 2016 and legal tender status of the ‘Elizabeth Fry’ paper £5 note was withdrawn on 5 May 2017. The polymer £10 banknote was issued on 14 September 2017 and legal tender status for the paper ‘Charles Darwin’ £10 banknote was withdrawn on 1 March 2018.

At the end of July 2018 around 124 million paper £5 notes and around 122 million paper £10 notes have not been returned to the Bank, this includes unreturned ‘Elizabeth Fry’ and ‘Charles Darwin’ notes as well as earlier paper denominations. There are currently around 269 million polymer £5 banknotes and 777 million polymer £10 banknotes in circulation.

The number of unreturned paper ‘Charles Darwin’ £10 notes is broadly in-line with our expectations. The number of unreturned paper ‘Elizabeth Fry’ £5 notes is higher than expected. This is likely to be the result of it being a lower denomination note and therefore more notes are likely to have been lost or damaged over the years or kept as souvenirs.

Many banks will accept paper ‘Elizabeth Fry’ £5 notes and ‘Charles Darwin’ £10 notes as deposits from customers and the Post Office will also accept these notes as payment for goods and services or as a deposit into any bank account accessed via the Post Office.

Alternatively, all withdrawn Bank of England notes can be exchanged free of charge at the Bank which can be done by post or in person at the Bank of England’s counter. More information, including details of the documents required, can be found here.

A polymer £20 banknote featuring the artist JMW Turner will be issued in 2020. Details about the withdrawal of legal tender status for the £20 paper note will be announced after polymer £20 has been issued.