Questions on damaged polymer and paper £10 and £5 Bank of England banknotes

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

Date: 2 December 2019

Disclosure:

1. How many £5 polymer notes has the Bank of England had to replace due to damage since they were introduced?

The Bank of England (the ‘Bank’) launched the polymer £5 note in September 2016 and up to end September 2019 approximately 20m polymer £5 notes have been replaced due to everyday wear and damage. The table below shows the yearly breakdown of the number of polymer £5 notes that have been replaced:

 Calendar Year  2016   2017   2018  2019 (to end September)
 Number of £5 polymer notes in circulation 197m  272m 290m 292m
 Number replaced None 0.6m 11m 8m
 Percentage of £5 polymer notes replaced None Under 1% Under 4% Under 3%

As illustrated above, the number of polymer £5 notes that have been replaced represents a very small fraction of the £5 polymer notes in circulation (under 4% in 2018) and, while we expect the polymer notes to have a longer life, it is too early in the note’s lifecycle to yet understand the rate of replacement of polymer notes.

2. How many £10 polymer notes has the Bank of England had to replace due to damage since it was introduced? 

The Bank launched the polymer £10 note in September 2017 and up to end September 2019 approximately 26m polymer £10 notes have been replaced due to everyday wear and damage. The table below shows the yearly breakdown of the number of polymer £10 notes that have been replaced:

 Calendar Year  2017  2018  2019 (to end September)
 Number of £10 polymer notes in circulation  603m  973m  1,127m
 Number replaced  None  12m  14m
 Percentage of £10 polymer notes replaced  None  Under 2%  Under 2%

Again, as for the £5 polymer note, the number of replaced polymer £10 notes represents a very small fraction of the £10 polymer notes in circulation (under 2% in 2018) and it is it is too early in the lifecycle to yet understand the rate of replacement of polymer notes.

3. What are the main types of damage caused to the notes (i.e. torn, defaced etc) that have had to be replaced?

While it is still too early in the lifecycle of polymer notes for the Bank to gain a representative understanding of what the main causes of damage is over the lifetime of the notes, damage to date mainly relates to folds, tears, holes and foil wear.

4. What, if known, are the main causes of damage caused (i.e. exposure to heat etc)?

The damage observed by the Bank to the polymer banknotes that have been replaced is consistent with the general wear that the Bank would expect for banknotes in circulation.

5. What is the cost to the Bank of England of replacing the polymer £5 and £10 notes that have been damaged?

The Bank expects a certain amount of banknotes in circulation to be damaged and the cost of replacement forms part of the Bank’s ongoing issuance programme. Banknote expense figures are included in the ‘Notes to the Issue Department statements of account’ in the ‘Financial Statements’ of the Bank’s Annual Reports.

6. For comparison, how many of the old £5 note did the Bank of England have to replace due to damage in each of the previous three years before they went out of circulation?

7. Similarly, how many of the old £10 note did the Bank of England have to replace due to damage in each of the previous three years before they went out of circulation?

With regard to the two questions above, there is a table on our website which provides figures by banknote series for the notes that were exchanged or destroyed between 1 July 2009 and 31 July 2019 which can be found here. To be helpful, we have also provided this information for the last full calendar years before the £5 and £10 notes were issued, below:  

In 2015 (the last full calendar year before the polymer £5 note was issued) 190m paper £5 series V notes were returned to the Bank due to everyday wear and damage (around 60% of the £5 notes in circulation in that year.) 

In 2016 (the last full calendar year before the polymer £10 note was issued) 410m paper £10 series V notes were returned to the Bank due to wear and damage from everyday use (around 53% of the £10 notes in circulation in that year.)

8. What were the main types of damage and causes for the old paper notes?

Paper notes generally become unfit for use through folds, tears, holes and a build-up of dirt/stain. This is consistent with the general wear that the Bank expects for paper notes in circulation.

There are two charts in the Damaged Notes section of the Banknote Statistics page on our website. This section of the website has statistics on notes that have been damaged beyond use (ie mutilated notes) rather than notes that have just worn. The first chart shows the number of claims to replace damaged banknotes and the cause of the damage and the second chart shows the value of the exchanged banknotes, between 2000 and 2018. These are available here

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