/ Money

The Bank of England proposes plastic banknotes – yay or nay?

£10 banknote

Britain could soon go plastic with polymer banknotes replacing the paper money we’ve come to know and love. So, when it comes to plastic notes, are you in the for or against camp?

The Bank of England’s (BOE) consulting on whether to move to plastic money; binning the paper currency that the Bank has been handing out for the 300 years it’s been going.

Of course, our current notes aren’t just made from paper – they’re mainly formed from cotton and linen fibre. However, they do tend to get tatty quickly, with the average fiver apparently only lasting a year.

This is part of the reason why the BOE is proposing to turn Britain plastic – just like in 20 other countries including Canada and Australia. If the BOE gets the go ahead we could see the first polymer notes in 2016, starting with the new Winston Churchill £5 note and soon followed by the Jane Austen £10 note.

Would you be comfortable with plastic banknotes?

So what’s the argument for plastic banknotes? I’ll leave it to Charlie Bean, the deputy governor of the BOE, to make the case:

‘Polymer banknotes are cleaner, more secure and more durable than paper notes. They are also cheaper and more environmentally friendly.’

Mr Bean (no, not that one) also added that ‘the Bank of England would print notes on polymer only if we were persuaded that the public would continue to have confidence in, and be comfortable with, our notes’.

For the past three years, BOE researchers have been looking at what the adoption of plastic notes in the UK would look like. It also plans to hold 50 public events in the next two months to see whether you’d be up for them. But we thought we’d also bring the debate to you on Which? Conversation. And before you make your mind up, let’s look a little closer at the pros and cons.

For and against plastic banknotes

The plastic notes will apparently cost 50% more to produce. However, since they’ll reportedly survive a spin in a washing machine, they’ll last 2.5 times longer. This could save the Bank £10m a year as it wouldn’t need to reprint as many replacement notes.

ATMs and vending machines will have to be upgraded, which will of course come at a cost. Yet, operators suggest that machines will be less likely to jam.

The BOE’s primary reason to move to plastic notes appears to be the extra security – this comes from the flexible plastic layers allowing for more sophisticated anti-counterfeiting techniques to be placed between them.

Still, there’s certainly something about our good old paper money that makes them nice to handle. When I lived in Australia, the plastic notes didn’t feel like real money. Although it was magical watching a crunched up 20 dollar note return to its original state, I still missed the easily-foldable British notes.

The BOE will make its final decision in December, so which side of the fence are you on – the frayed paper fiver or the flexible plastic fiver?

If the Bank of England decided to print plastic banknotes, would you be:

Strongly in favour (36%, 539 Votes)

Somewhat in favour (25%, 378 Votes)

Neutral (22%, 322 Votes)

Strongly opposed (10%, 155 Votes)

Somewhat opposed (7%, 102 Votes)

Total Voters: 1,496

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Like Bill, I have experience of these, as they were used in NI several years ago, released by the Ulster Bank (NI banks can issue their own notes as they cost less to ‘buy’ than Bank of England ones!) I agree that they were slippery and not easy to fold for a wallet/purse. As regards being any more hygienic – not that I recall. Why is the Bank of England wasting money trialling these when the Ulster Bank can provide its experiences for free?

As explained in the introduction, the main reason is to make it more difficult to produce counterfeit notes. A friend who used to own a pub once showed me a large collection of counterfeit notes that his staff had accepted in good faith. Some of the fakes were obvious, especially after being given instruction in what to look for, and others were more subtle, but his customers had cheated him out of a lot of money – even if they may not known they were doing this. There are a lot of counterfeit notes in circulation.

Having to put up with notes that are more slippery and less easy to fold is not a very good reason for not tackling the problem of counterfeit banknotes. A microbiologist should be able to confirm that the plastic banknotes are more hygienic than current notes.

Coins must be a way of spreading bugs. Presumably when (real) silver coins were in use this was much less of a problem? Perhaps plastic coins would be better?

You are right about real silver coins having anti-microbial properties, Malcolm, though this might only be effective in damp conditions. The current copper-coated steel 1p and 2p coins will have similar anti-microbial properties.

M Bruce says:
14 September 2013

I regularly visit Australia where plastic notes have been the norm for many years. They are much more robust than paper notes and never look tatty. They are also more difficult to forge and last a lot longer. When we in the UK eventually get around to making this change we will probably wonder why it took us so long!

The Isle of Man issued plastic £1 notes some years ago. I still have one which I kept after a holiday there. I believe plastic notes are no longer used there because they became grubby before they needed to be withdrawn.


Would it be possible to devise a system for clearing/disinfecting banknotes and would it be easier with plastic ones?

A note/coin cleaner could become a must-have home appliance.

JGH 1 – it’s called money laundering. It may be a service your bank offers offshore?

The thought of more secure bank notes would be a good thing but how many times have any of you out there had money refused to be taken, I never have in my 70 yrs of life so why worry now. I never look at notes enough to say they are tatty or dirty as long as it pays for my goods I am happy.Has anyone thought that this is a government ploy to find out how many people are holding cash at home so that they can find out what we have put back for a rainy day by changing our foldable money. At present they do not know how rich we are especially when it comes to means testing for any reason, I was told to save for a rainy day when I was young but now the uk wants all of it back for nothing leaving us pensioners poor although we have put money into the N H since starting work we now find that almost half of the population now never pay any N H ,Stamp, calling on the services all of the time for hand outs from our savings !!!!. With people now only employed for very few hours the companies can get away with paying nothing into the system while workers have problems to get jobs that can be a follow on from the mornings job giving them a reasonable take home wage. LEAVE OUR MONEY AS IT HAS ALWAYS BEEN it’s worked for over 100 years so where is the problem.

BobP – there is no suggestion that you’ll have to exchange your paper notes for platic – they’ll just get substituted gradually as paper notes are spent and are at end of life. Leave it in your mattress until it’s needed!

Having recently seen and handled an Australian polymer note, I would be quite happy to change over. Having on occasion washed a UK Bank note and being fed up with tatty notes I’m in favour. We may get more of those useful £5 into circulation.

Jim Macleod says:
14 September 2013

Before I say whether I am for or against, I would like to know more about the look and (particularly) feel of the proposed new notes, e.g: Are they awkward and slippery? How easy are they to keep in a wallet or pocket – folded in half, say? I’d like to be surer that they won’t spring out of fold, or even out of the pocket.

Jim Macleod says:
14 September 2013

Just an aside on the “money-laundering” discussion: I have on two occasions accidentally “laundered” an existing note through the washing machine, and on both occasions the note has emerged unscathed – substantially unchanged (apart from being a lot cleaner) and every bit as usable as before. I don’t think plastic notes would make any difference in this respect.

Vic Pumfrey says:
15 September 2013

Long overdue, should have been done back in 1971 when we first changed to decimal currency. The £1 coin (a favorite of forgers, everyone has a least 1 on them if they check carefully) should now be abolished in favor of this new material. This would have a considerable effect on reducing inflation, and I wonder how many tons weight that would reduce the nations pockets by?

Phil B says:
16 September 2013

The £1 coin is worth about the same as a shilling was before decimalisation – seems hardly worth the trouble of forging, or of changing it back to a note.

A lot of people are missing the point. Plastic money, what is this Monopoly. Eventually digital money where money does not exist at all. We already live in times where our so called money actually holds no value (of course we are made to believe it does). That fiver in your pocket is not worth £5.
Secondly, all this talk of money laundering. Hmmm do these measures also apply to the largest network of organised criminals being the Government and Co and how have the general public managed to the present day without being able to wipe clean their notes.

Maggie says:
16 September 2013

Yes, I would like the Bank of England to make the switch to polymer notes, but would prefer them to be similar in shape to the Euro bank notes. It’s an excellent idea and I am already looking forward to using them.

Can’t wait. From what I hear, the new notes are similar in feel to Tyvek envelopes. We should have done this ages ago.

MartinJC says:
27 September 2013

About time really
Having lived in Australia for a few years and used their notes I can only see the introduction of them here as a positive. They handle easily and don’t shred like the paper ones. Presumably they last much longer too? Yes yes yes!