/ Money

Bank notes that are built to last

New fiver

The introduction of new £5 plastic bank notes across the UK is just a few months away. They’re supposed to be difficult to damage and tricky to fake. How do you feel about the new notes?

Winston Churchill famously said: “To improve is to change. To be perfect is to change often” and there are a whole host of changes on the new £5 note that bears his face.

The Bank of England’s first £5 plastic banknote was unveiled last week and is supposedly cleaner, safer and stronger – but do we really need these improvements?

Plastic fantastic?

These bank notes will be able to survive a 90°C trip through the washing machine or the bite of a bulldog.

Each note is so much more resistant to dirt and moisture that it will typically last two and a half times longer than a paper note, saving the Bank of England £100m in printing costs over the decade. It also incorporates plenty of new security features, making it far more difficult to counterfeit.

These advantages will also be incorporated into the new £10 and £20 notes being introduced in the future, bringing an end to 320 years of paper money in the UK.

The cost of new money

However, there are suggestions that these new banknotes will cause more problems than they solve.

Business of all sizes will have to upgrade cash-handling hardware, such as vending machines and ATMs. It’s been estimated this will cost the British economy around £236m – almost two and a half times more than the printing savings over the first decade.

The Bank of England also concedes that the new notes can stick together, so shoppers need to be more wary of handing over two notes instead of one.

This sounds like a lot of faff for what is becoming an increasingly cashless society.

Prepare for plastic banknotes

The new £5 note enters circulation on September 13 this year. You can continue using the paper notes until May 2017, after which they will cease to become legal tender. At this point, you’ll need to exchange them at The Bank of England.

A plastic £10 note is expected next summer, with a new £20 note following in 2020.

What are your thoughts on plastic banknotes? Can you see yourself still using cash in 10 years’ time?

Are you a fan of the new £5 plastic banknotes?

Yes (49%, 392 Votes)

Not sure (30%, 240 Votes)

No (21%, 172 Votes)

Total Voters: 804

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I don’t know why this didn’t happen decades ago. Plastic notes were introduced in Australia in 1988 and all notes there have been plastic since 1996. I never found problems with them sticking together, any more than new paper ones (which they tend to do if fresh from the guillotine). As for the cost of updating money handling machines – this would be incurred for a new design whether plastic or not.


Thanks to those of you who pointed out that Scotland has already introduced plastic banknotes. We’ve tweaked the article accordingly.

Jan Letts says:
13 June 2016

The notes in Canada are the same they take a little getting use to as they don’t crunch up so beware of giving too many notes at one time.

Shugg says:
14 June 2016

The Scottish ones are fine, but you very rarely get any, so goodness knows where they are (I live in Edinburgh). Hand one over in a pub and I still get comments about them. Canadian notes are terrible, as you cannot fold them, so they spring out of your wallet. I took to warming them and forcefully folding them. Isle of Man has had plastic notes for years and by on large they’re OK.

It’s the March of Time, but I can’t help but think they’re trying to make it as awkward as possible to use notes in the hope we all go cashless.


Cashless is “penciled in ” for 2025/35 Shugg and then you lose real control of your money .

JohnT says:
18 June 2016

If they’re so much better for handling, durability and forger resistance, the why not make a plastic one pound note? After all, wasn’t the argument a cost-saving one, mainly concerning durability (to be like a Euro wasn’t mentioned), when coins were introduced. Now imagine the savings in transport costs, in handling, and the great improvement in forgery resistance (where the one pound coin was a complete failure), which could be made by bringing back a plastic one pound note.


John-why not make a plastic £1 note= cash machines and the billions to convert them , who pays . In any case £1 sterling coin will be like the old threepenny bit and probably the same value soon so the value will be worthless in the future so no point.


A trick that won’t be possible to play on anyone with plastic notes is one I saw years ago on the French equivalent of Candid Camera, La Caméra Cachée. An unsuspecting taxi driver is hired to take a member of the Camera crew to his house and is invited in so that he can get paid. They go into this big room where dozens of paper bank notes are hanging on a line as if they had been freshly printed and the taxi driver is asked how many he would like. Some taxi drivers scarpered quickly, but others were happy to take a few.

Or maybe the trick could be played by using a laminator?


Received my new passport the other day [thankfully marked ‘European Union’] and the range of new security features is most impressive, including perforations, transparent sections, raised text, holograms, metallic images, things you can only work out when you hold it up to the light, and even my own signature embedded in it. This’ll cut immigration at a stroke!