/ 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

Loading ... Loading ...

I’m particularly looking forward to the new £5 note with Winston Churchill on it. If it’s going to be plastic so it doesn’t get grubby and crumpled, so much the better!

Australia has had plastic banknotes for years.
Highly successful!

I would be concerned about foldability and the notes sticking together. I imagine that cotton and linen as natural fibres are less likely to stick together than plastic. However, I welcome the fact that they will be more difficult to counterfeit, will last longer and we can all wipe clean our notes. Laundering our money will take on a whole new meaning. Will the bank tellers be able to count a large bundle of plastic notes as quickly as they do now?.

Paying with plastic will bring cash into line with other popular methods. I wonder if my wallet will fold as neatly as it does with paper notes?

You are on form tonight, Malcolm R.

2016? Next year, please. I have been wondering for years when the UK would get round to this technology. Loved them when down under. We always seemed to be six years behind the Americans (remember advertisements for washing machines that would fit on your draining board?). Now we lag behind the Aussies. Fortunately our cost of living and houses are still
cheaper – for the moment. Roll on plastic cash, but don’t make the coins plastic just yet.

I foresee a problem with vending machines that take notes during the change over period but then they hardly ever seem to work anyway.

Do plastic notes rustle like the old paper ones?

My only concern is that they will slip through your hands quicker.

Plastic notes are more hygienic, which is a good enough reason on its own for making the change. What a pity our country was not the first to make the change.

Gerard Phelan says:
12 September 2013

Will they get charged up with static electricity as we slide them out of our wallet? Spending money could become a truly shocking experience, through perhaps an incentive to save.

A few days before this announcement I was looking at some of the disreputable fivers in my wallet and wondering how long it would be before the government decided to call them in, declare them illegal tender, and give us new £4 coins in return [well, I wouldn’t put it past them . . . ]. So I am pleased that there is a more secure future for the five pound note and I have no concerns about them being made of polymer. And while we’re thinking about new banknote material perhaps we should be looking at their overall shape and design: Should they be oblong? Would they be better with rounded corners? Would it be useful to have a small hole punched through one end? Could they be perforated on a sheet or roll like postage stamps? And perhaps a deckled edge, glitter dust and a satin ribbon through the side would make them appealing as children’s treats.

How about circular – so that the corners do not get folded over. 🙂

Great idea, John. With a hole punched in the end we could decorate our Christmas trees with them and forget the lights. Then our friends can visit and tie yet more notes on the tree. This will solve the problem of unwanted presents to be exchanged or returned for refund after Christmas. When the new year sales start we can then untie the money from the tree and go on a spending spree. Mr Bean, are you listening?

ATM’s, vending machines will need to be upgraded and what about our recently installed supermarket self service till note handlers?

As an notaphilist all I can say is this is going to be expensive.

I guess the advantages of coming to the party after several other countries have taken the plunge means there should be no issues with cash machines as any possible problems should have been identified by now.

I’m still hoping for a £100 note with a picture of Maggie T on it, but I suspect due to money laundering issues they won’t want to go that high. FYI the 500 Euro note was pulled for that reason, they worked out that most notes of that denomination that were in circulation were being used by crooks.

The €500 note was never pulled; it is in free circulation and legal tender throughout the Eurozone. It is only in the UK that they are not accepted, and we are not in the Eurozone.

Cash (and cheques) can be used as payment when no alternative exists, but is there any need for high denomination banknotes?

I’m uncomfortable carrying large amounts of cash (it rarely happens) and having it concentrated in two or three high value notes would feel even more so. However, there is an issue when you have to buy,say,a second hand car privately, now bankers drafts do not seem to be as accepted. Cash seems the only way many will trade, or doing a bank transfer by phone as I did on behalf of my son once he was happy to take the car on offer. High value notes would make the bundle of cash less obtrusive whilst travelling.

This does not seem very satisfactory. Perhaps we should be campaigning for retention of the bankers draft, as was done to keep the cheque. Both have a place where there is no sensible alternative.

Yeah you’r right NFH, they were only pulled in the UK, sorry. Although surely if 9 out of 10 notes in the UK were thought to be in the hands of criminals , I’d be surprised about there usage in the rest of the eurozone.


I can see them working much better in machines.

The next step would be to have the numbers on banknotes read every time they went through a machine (including a till) so that money fraudulently withdrawn from an ATM would be automatically recognised when spent.

I am uncomfortable with politicians being on our banknotes – Winston Churchill being the exception – for at least 100 years after they held power and all state papers relating to their time in power has been released. Allow time and distance to be a judge of their worthiness to be on our notes and stare at us each time we spend a fiver. I like the idea of eminent scientists and reformers who achieved a great deal for society being featured. What about a scientist like Elizabeth Garrett Anderson or a suffragette like Emmeline Pankhurst or even dare I say it, Marie Stopes. Their work benefited a greater number of ordinary women than Jane Austen.

Did we have a recent Conversation on who should grace our banknotes?

Figgerty – The faces on our banknotes are mentioned in this Conversation: https://conversation.which.co.uk/money/revamp-uk-banknotes-new-five-pound-notes/

I would favour selection of people who are generally accepted as having made a positive contribution to society.

You could put criminals faces who are on the run?

In the 2011 Conversation, Martyn Savile of Which? suggested Edith Cavell, William Wilberforce and William Penn for the back of our banknotes. I agree with the first two but need to find out more about William Penn and what he did for humanity, other than being a Quaker and having founded Pennsylvania. I think it would be good if we could all nominate our choice with a reason including how they improved or enriched the lives of the ordinary person. Then everybody could vote on the nominees. Enzo Ferrari may well be on the list of nominees, I expect there are many who feel he enriched their lives.

I agree about having a selection of people but we must redress the historical imbalance between male and female figures. We have been looking at mens faces almost all of our lives and our school girls could do with more positive role models than our reality TV stars and pop stars.

There’s been a woman’s head on our banknotes [and postage stamps] for most of my life but the next three monarchs are due to be male so it would be only right and proper for the additional personage to be a woman of distinction. I shall abstain from the selection process because I think the nominations so far seem to be the usual suspects after whom are named any number of blocks of municipal flats, hospital wards, and cul-de-sacs. My inclinations are towards the unsung heroines who were behind the famous or infamous men of history and either pushed them forward or – rightly – held them back.

He probably uses a signature machine like the Queen – probably available from Harrods.

Sorry, my previous comment at 1:19 pm was supposed to be a reply to William.

I wonder how much longer we will really need lots of banknotes. For those with on-line banking and suitable card machines might it not be possible to download money onto a card from your bank account to use for cash transactions (like pre-loaded cards for foreign travel, oyster cards and proximity cards)?

I suggested that for separate contactless cards. We would decide how much to load onto the card or it could be automatically reloaded when the balance reached a stated level, set by us. But the banks wish us to use our normal debit and credit cards for contactless transactions and many of us are not happy with having this imposed on us. We should also be able to set a transaction level, not the banks.

Will Scottish banknotes fall into line if the Bank of England changes over to plastic? I suppose if the Scots vote to secede from the Union perhaps they’ll go with the Euro anyway, or are they thinking they will remain a sterling country?

A further thought . . . At present I make sure all my banknotes have been signed by the Chief Cashier; I expect he has a special pen that does three or four at a time, but will that work on shiny new plastic notes? – or will the pen slither about all over the notes? And will the ink dry quickly or lead to smudging? I think we should be told.

Reply seems to have slipped into the wrong place – see above. As regards the person’s head on the note, perhaps we should abandon well-known people and put an “ordinary” person’s head on the note – perhaps chosen at random by NI number?
Is this conversation going off topic?

Please note that I would not want everyone to become familiar with my head, so I beg you to exclude me from the NI number lottery. Incidentally, Malcolm, what is your avatar?

I would favour using pictures of wildlife rather than people on our banknotes, if only to ensure that no celebrities make an appearance.

Richard K says:
12 September 2013

Bring ’em on. I remember years ago, going to the Isle of Man and their pound notes (shows how long ago it was) were like a plastic. It just felt like a normal pound note except with a more substantal feel.

I wish they would just hurry up and put the chip in our hands and get rid of paper and coins all together. I hate using cash!

It’s a big yay from me, we travel to oz and they have the same kind of thing.

We found this a brilliant idea especially when you forget to check your pockets before a swim or putting clothes in to the washing machine.

Also we found that when they get crunched up they come back to the original shape without ripping and becoming very tatty.


Bill Cardwell says:
14 September 2013

Having had experience of these in Northern Ireland I strongly dislike them. They are slippery and don’t fold easily. They seem to have been withdrawn again here; I have not seen one for over a year.