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Frequently Asked Questions

Here are some of the most frequently asked questions about Bank of England banknotes.

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. Contact the Bank of England for details.

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 fluorescent feature on the £5, £10 and £20 notes (the £50 note does not have the fluorescent feature). 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.

Has the Bank considered producing a plastic banknote?
The Bank continually looks at the security features of the notes and at methods of production and printing, including the use of plastic. We currently consider paper notes as good as any other type of banknote for use in the UK. The feel of the paper is one of the ways of checking whether a note is genuine or not.

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 Mutilated Notes section of this site accessible by clicking here.
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 is larger than a £5 note and so on.
There is a densely coloured shape on the front of the note that is unique to each denomination – a turquoise circle on the £5, an orange diamond on the £10, a purple square on the old-style £20 and a red triangle on the £50 – and the £5, £10 and old-style £20 notes have large denomination numerals on the front of the note.  The new-style £20 note does not require a separate recognition symbol because the denomination numeral is prominently displayed in the clear white area.

Has the Bank considered using braille on banknotes to help blind people identify the different denominations?
Yes but on the advice of The Royal Institute for the Blind the Bank has not included this because 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.

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 wthdrawn.

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 £5 and £10 notes in 2003, 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 Irish notes legal tender?
In short ‘No’ these notes are not legal tender; only Bank of England notes are legal tender but only in England and Wales.
The term legal tender does not in itself govern the acceptability of banknotes in transactions. Whether or not notes have legal tender status, their acceptability as a means of payment is essentially a matter for agreement between the parties involved. Legal tender has a very narrow technical meaning in relation to the settlement of debt. If a debtor pays in legal tender the exact amount he owes under the terms of a contract, he has good defence in law if he is subsequently sued for non-payment of the debt. In ordinary everyday transactions, the term ‘legal tender’ has very little practical application.

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 or on +44(0)20 7601 4028.

External Links
  • Royal Mint
    For all enquiries about British coinage
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