Questions about guidelines for handling of old and mutilated banknotes during the Covid-19 pandemic

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

Date: 15 April 2020


‘What guidelines/policies do you have in place for staff dealing with old and mutilated notes? How should they handle these? Are they considered to pose a threat to health?’

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.

Staff at the Bank of England’s (the ‘Bank’s’) Cash Centre, including those who deal with old banknotes, are processing used banknotes as normal, while following Public Health England Covid-19 guidance and practicing social distancing.

Dealing with mutilated notes is a separate, specialist function. Notes that come in via this route have often been subjected to extreme conditions and can contain a wide range of contaminants (e.g. harmful chemicals, bodily fluids) which are not typically found on old note returns. Even before the outbreak of Covid-19, the small team that handles these claims were therefore issued with PPE and other equipment as standard in their role; this includes disposable gloves, aprons, masks and the use of a down-flow bench and fume hood if required. No additional measures have been deemed necessary in light of the current situation.

‘I note on the BoE website it asks “if possible, please delay submitting your application until the threat of coronavirus has diminished” - what are the reasons for this?

The Bank’s website states: ‘At this time there may be a delay in processing your claim. If possible, please delay submitting your application until the threat of the Coronavirus has diminished’. This potential delay is due to the Bank prioritising critical processes to ensure that banknotes continue to be distributed throughout the UK, while protecting the wellbeing of our colleagues by introducing revised shift patterns and social distancing measures. This means that fewer staff are available in the current circumstances to deal with less time-critical operations, such as processing mutilated notes claims, and so claims may take longer than normal. We are therefore asking people to consider if sending their claim in is a priority at this time. We will, of course, endeavour to continue to process the mutilated notes claims that we do receive to the best of our ability. The request to delay sending in claims is in no way a signal that we consider that banknotes pose a threat due to Covid-19.