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Spending Scottish & Northern Irish notes in England & Wales

Can you legally spend Scottish and Northern Irish banknotes in England and Wales? Find out why a technicality has been causing some confusion…

You may not know it, but Which? Convo editor Patrick Steen is in fact part Scottish, Irish and English. So if he ever wanted to explore his heritage, he might amass a wedge of notes from across the UK. With that in mind, can he spend his Scottish and Northern Irish notes back in London? Yes and no…

When we asked more than 1,000 Which? members whether they thought Scottish and Northern Irish banknotes are legal tender in England and Wales, 73% of people said yes, 20% said no and 7% don’t know. Actually, they’re not, but should retailers accept them anyway?

Are these notes legal tender?

More than half of the respondents to our survey had experienced difficulties trying to spend Scottish or Northern Irish notes in England or Wales. Of these, 26% had been refused service altogether and 32% were given the impression by shop staff that they were unhappy to accept the notes.

So what’s the truth? Well, the Bank of England states that only its banknotes are ‘legal tender’ in England and Wales. However, that’s not the be all and end all. The term ‘legal tender’ has a narrow technical meaning which doesn’t necessarily stop you from spending them. The Bank of England says:

‘The acceptability of Scottish and Northern Irish banknotes as a means of payment is essentially a matter for agreement between the parties involved.’

However, these notes are a legal currency approved by the UK parliament, so shouldn’t retailers accept them?

Your view on banknotes

Some of you shared your experiences on our Facebook page, highlighting the confusion about spending these notes. Eric told us:

‘I tried to pay for something with a Bank of Scotland £20 note in Sainsbury’s, Nottingham and was asked what type of food voucher it was.’

But Brenda thinks the notes should be declined:

‘They may be legal currency but are often refused because of possible counterfeiting. How would a shopkeeper know? We can tell when English notes aren’t right.’

Have you ever been inconvenienced by having Scottish or Northern Irish banknotes rejected? Oh and if you do have problems then any bank should change the notes for you.

Have you ever had Scottish or Northern Irish banknotes rejected in England or Wales?

Yes (54%, 609 Votes)

No (26%, 293 Votes)

No, I've never tried to (21%, 233 Votes)

Total Voters: 1,135

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Denis Ayers says:
28 August 2015

After all the fuss during the Scottish referendum debate and David Cameron’s insistence that we are a United Kingdom it’s strange (or is it?) that all that is forgotten when we start talking about Scottish banknotes. Does Which recognise that it has Scottish members? It publishes an article about whether or not Scottish banknotes are legal tender in England. That’s fine as far as it goes but, as usual, the debate is always an anglocentric one way street. In a magazine that goes to members all over the UK why then is the status of so called English banknotes in Scotland not mentioned? Would that not be helpful to everyone? I wrote to Which asking them to follow up the first article with something about the status of notes in Scotland but got brushed off. I wonder why that could be? Well, as Which won’t oblige then for those who are still reading you may like to know that English notes (more correctly British B of E notes) are not legal tender in Scotland. Yes, I know you think I’m talking nonsense, but what does the Bank of England have to say on the matter:


So how many of you in holiday in Scotland have had your English notes turned down? Not many I suspect.


That’s really interesting, thanks Denis. I’ll share it with the guys here. Would be interested to hear if anyone has had English notes declined in Scotland.

Thanks for link to this factsheet, Patrick. I had not realised that ‘legal currency’ and ‘legal tender’ were different.

In my experience, English notes are always accepted in Scotland. Maybe not if you have made disparaging comments about the Scots or their banknotes. 🙂

I think it’s unlikely. It’s not in the amicable Scottish nature to decline a banknote however despicable.

Very informative,I’ve got 6k of Scottish notes to pay into my English bank account.I guess it’s going to be interesting.Im hoping their basic greed will win the day.Dont forget your money becomes theirs when you pay it in.Maybe I should start stuffing the mattress instead.I do love Scottish notes though,they look awesome.

Andy Luke says:
2 October 2015

Funnily enough, the door swings both ways on this. Bank of England notes are legal tender only in England and Wales, not in Scotland or Northern Ireland. Yet I’ve never come across problems with English notes as currency in those areas. Perhaps what we’re looking at is a closeted racism? The onus is on prejudiced shopkeepers to educate themselves about acceptable currency and tender, not for the consumer to prove they’re not a criminal. It is a basic vital part of commercial business, no?

I will start using Bank of England notes when they realize they are not the Bank of England exclusively, but in fact, they are the National Bank of Britain. When they change their name, I will use them. Until then, I will only use Scottish notes in Scotland. Too many English people still think that Scotland & Northern Ireland are part of England!

The trouble these scotch notes make when used in England is incalculable! Wouldn`t you think those north of the border would themselves protest, theirs being the great irritation when travelling south? I believe it was Sir Walter Scott, another tribalist with spite and not reason as his guide, who managed to inaugurate the separate system of currency that seems to profit only the banks and not the consumer! Patriotism comes a very poor second to lucre! It would certainly be fitting, national pride getting its share, if The Bank Of England became The British National Bank!

I have lived in Canada for the last 27 years. The biggest joke of all is this. If you take a Scottish note into a bank here, they will give you a smaller exchange rate for it compared to an English banknote. How so? – both banks are producing notes for eg. “One Pound Sterling” it is the only currency the UNITED KINGDOM has !
When you complain they say they have different banking arrangements with each bank – sounds like the usual bank gouging, from its own customers to me.

Gavan says:
20 July 2017

How strange!
However it may be true.
They may have an arrangement with a Scottish Bank for exchanging Scottish Sterling notes, a Northern Irish bank for exchanging Northern Irish Sterling notes, and an English bank for English Sterling notes, with different terms of exchange.

Really hard to put aside the obvious thought that it sounds completely like a scam, though.
I think nowhere else in the world does this.
A pound Sterling is a pound Sterling, and you can’t have different rates for the same currency at the same time!

Having said that – at least they accept the Scottish for exchange at all in Canada.

Numerous times in France, they have refused for my Scottish and Northern Irish notes, saying it has to be Bank of England.
The next time I went to France I was prepared with my BoE notes and the only currency exchange places claimed to have a computer error.
Actually they showed it to me, the BoE note I had digital image didn’t come up on their computer screen.
One of those old Windows XP errors where the online picture doesn’t load and is replaced with a red “x”!
The next day and more hours of waiting later, they eventually got their literally creaking fax machine working as they had been trying to get an image of the note faxed from another office, and eventually I got local currency exchange.

When stuck in a village in the French Alps, not driving, you often can’t even get a bus to somewhere else which might exchange.
But then, the year before I had got a train, around 3 hours each way from one city to the next and was refused exchange of my Northern Irish notes by even the Bank of France.
Though they did phone the 2nd city’s Credit Agricole (who had already refused as well) and “advised” them to exchange.
I called in again on my way back to the train station and they accepted.

In Austria, they exchanged a mixture of BoE and Northern Irish at the click of a finger.

As an American who doesn’t claim or expect to understand this issue fully, I’m so confused?
Would this be like Texas or California having its own currency back here, being they are historically and culturally separate identity than much of rest of USA?
Is Irish/Scottish bank notes rated at same value as English ones?
Why would this practice ever begin? What’s the benefit and or who benefits in this situation?

Sorry for all the questions but I can’t weapons my head around this and hope someone can shed light. Thanks

The currency is the same [the pound sterling] but the banks in Scotland and Northern Ireland are authorised to issue their own bank notes. The Scottish and Northern Irish banknotes are on a par with Bank of England notes. Generally the circulation of these banknotes remains within the country of origin. The Bank of England [the UK’s national bank and state-controlled money control institution] issues most of the banknotes used throughout the entire United Kingdom and BoE notes also circulate widely in Scotland and Northern Ireland. The legal systems in Scotland and Northern Ireland differ from that in England & Wales in a number of respects and these are quirks of historic custom and practice that make the UK more interesting and which residents of Scotland and Northern Ireland wish to preserve. I don’t think anybody benefits from or is disadvantaged by the issue of distinctive banknotes.

Gavan says:
20 July 2017

The simple answer …
* All of the British banknotes are the same currency –
British Pounds Sterling.
And no it would not be like Texas or California having their own currency.

…But it would be like that a “Bank of Texas” etc prints their own version of the Bank of America dollar bill (and $10 etc), and the BoT dollar is a full, valid dollar, as valid anywhere in the USA as the Bank of America dollar which it co-exists with.
They would be the same thing, essentially. Same currency, same validity, just that there are numerous different sources, different banks authorised in law to print exactly the same money – in banknotes which look different. So you would have Bank of Texas, Bank of California, Bank of Michigan, Bank of Massachusetts – all making exactly the same US dollar, the same currency, all valid banknotes co-existing throughout all of the USA, all one dollar but looking different, all valid to spend anywhere in the nation.

However – still in the USA analogy – although each regional banks note is valid anywhere throughout the USA as cash money, that doesn’t mean that shops are obliged to accept any of the different banknotes. Sorry, it gets a bit tricky!

So, basically, a Bank of Texas note would probably be accepted throughout Texas and nearby, but the further you get away from there, still many shops would accept it, but some would be unfamiliar with it and would say NO. They have that right. It is up to the shop or person.

(Usually, back in the real world and the UK, saying no to a non-local British banknote is just to do with familiarity, and shopkeepers not seeing the other notes much and not being sure if they genuine or counterfeit versions.)

So – USA analogy again, the Bank of Texas note – even though the law says it is valid currency throughout the USA, no shop is obliged to accept any banknote they don’t want to (actually including the Bank of Texas notes in Texas itself).

All varieties of British banknote mean the same thing and all are valid everywhere in the 4 UK regions.
But it is up to each shopkeeper or person whether or not they accept any of these notes, their decision.

Usually you won’t have any problem with Bank of England notes anywhere in the UK, in any region (though shops fan still refuse them).
Though if you are in Scotland or Northern Ireland and use an ATM (bank cash machine) with your bank card for cash withdrawal, there is no telling what source banknotes you will get, and you often get a mix from more than one region

Banks themselves, the people at the counters, will usually change cash from one banknote source to another.

The more complicated answer …

(But it’s still quite simple, if you remember that each banknote from any of the 4 regions of the UK is the one same currency and is always valid in each of the 4 regions. But valid doesn’t mean it has to be accepted. You can always change your non-local banknote into the local banknote at any high street bank anywhere in the UK, just go in and ask.)

* Basically, all of the banknotes concerned are banknotes of the one same currency of the United Kingdom, the single British currency of the Pound Sterling.

All of the banknotes – from English, Northern Irish and Scottish source banks (all of which are just British banks in different regions of the UK) – are called “legal currency”.

That means the British law, in all of the UK, says all of these banknotes are valid for paying with. Northern Irish, Scottish, English – in any of the four British regions – England, Wales, Scotland or Northern Ireland.

Great, now the “rough”!
Firstly anywhere – any shop or person, in any of the four regions – can decide themselves if they want to accept any of the banknotes or not. Although the law says they are all “legal currency”, that doesn’t mean any shop has to accept any of them. They can all be refused – including a Bank of England note itself in England or Wales.

To complicate things, there is another concept than “legal currency”, called “legal tender”. It’s worth stating as you may hear people talking about it, maybe differentiating it from “legal currency” and saying it means that a shop has to accept “this legal tender banknote”.

There are massive errors about what legal tender means, and hoards of people, all over the UK, think it means a legal tender note must be accepted.

Forget about that, because actually legal tender means just about nothing today – it is to do with an archaic law about right to sue after paying off a debt!

Literally forget about legal tender, it means nothing relevant to you or probably anyone else in the whole UK, visitor or resident.

It may be worth being aware that when you hear someone talking about “legal tender”, they probably mean “legal currency”.
You can also probably assume they think that their banknotes HAVE to accepted somewhere.
By the time you hear someone saying either “legal tender” or “legal currency”, and often it comes in a loud, angry voice, it is because they assume those terms mean their banknotes MUST be accepted.
That is just their mistake, as no British banknotes have to accepted anywhere in the UK, including Bank of England banknotes in England.

I did the complicated version in case you hear or get into a discussion about these terms – legal currency and legal tender.
At the end of the day, what you have to remember is that there is no term or law meaning that any banknote has to be accepted by anyone, anywhere in the UK. And few people probably realise this – including many, many British people.

(Valid currency just means it is legal for the customer to OFFER it for payment all over the UK. Never that it has to be accepted.)

More often, your British banknotes from any regional source will be accepted throughout the UK. Try and keep the local notes for whichever region you are in, though, to avoid the odd shop not accepting some of your cash. Do this by exchanging any other banknotes you have in a high street bank. Post Offices will probably help you this way also, but they don’t have to. They often will.

Whatever you do – do not bring Scottish or Northern Irish banknotes out of the country with you, thinking you can easily change them to another currency. You may be able to do this, but I have had major problems trying this myself – it is much better to change all your notes into Bank of England notes before you leave.

Remember, you can do this if you are flying or sailing out of Northern Ireland or Scotland also, by going to a high street bank and asking to change your regional banknotes into Bank of England notes there.

Rabbie Burns says:
7 February 2017

Before travelling to England I always make sure to withdraw a woad of Scottish money before going down. If they have a problem with it then it is just that… their problem, not mine! I always happily take the money back when rejected which is always a bonus after a good meal you were expecting to pay for.

Most seem happy to accept Scottish notes, certainly in the north of England. The last time someone looked uncomfortably at a Scottish £10 note I said I might have an Irish £9 note in my wallet.

Rabbie, we gave up woad a few years ago. I for one like the diversity that exists among the UK nations and long may it last.

Nist says:
24 March 2017

I happily accept Scottish, Irish and English notes in my shop. In response to Brenda: that’s what a UV Light is for. Doesn’t matter which country the note’s from, it will have UV markings on if it’s real. The markings are different between the country’s notes (English ones have “£20” [or £5, £10 or £50 for those respective amounts] at the top whereas Scottish/Irish have a kind of blocky barcode-type pattern) but they will be there if the note’s real (unless the note is really old). In the absence of a UV light, a special type of marker pen can be used (it won’t leave a mark on a real note but will on a fake one). The pen test is less reliable though; the pen could run out of ink without the cashier realising, thus leading them to accept fake notes. Also, some of the more cunning tenderers of counterfeit currency spray their fake notes with hairspray before attempting to spend them; this will prevent the tester pen from leaving the incriminating mark providing the note is spent within about 10 minutes of being sprayed.

I find it hard to believe that there are lots of retailers who refuse to accept currency from other UK countries; only the other week I had someone try to pay with a fake Scottish £20. I’m too far from the border for it to have got here by osmosis so it must’ve been printed in England; if Scottish notes are so hard to spend in England, why would the forgers bother making fakes of them?

Gavan says:
20 July 2017

There are a number of important points.

“Legal currency” vs “legal tender”.

1.Scottish and Northern Irish banknotes are in the UK’s sterling currency, and exactly the same as Bank of England banknotes. Any banknote from any region of the UK has the SAME standards of protection and validation – the BoE, the same as Scottish and NI notes.

However, only the Bank of England notes are “legal tender” and only in England and Wales.
In Scotland and Northern Ireland, there are NO notes at all which are “legal tender”. These two regions have NO “legal tender” British banknotes.

However this doesn’t actually mean anything because legal tender is a quite archaic term which has nothing to do with either the validity of a note for paying in a shop etc, and nothing to do with whether or not a shop, person etc is obliged to accept the note for payment. Legal tender is a term only to do with an archaic right to sue after paying off a debt. The term is still used, but the term ought utterly to be dropped, and The Bank of England ought to be well behind this.

2. All Bank of England and Northern Irish and Scottish banknotes are classed as “legal currency”, and each are as valid as another for paying or giving etc, anywhere in the UK.

That is the truth, and it is enshrined in law and cannot be questioned, legally.
HOWEVER – your expectations in knowing this may differ from the practice substantially. The big thing to remember is that shops in England quite frequently refuse to accept Scottish and Northern Irish notes. While English high street banks will nearly always change a note or notes from one banknote source to another for you (basically it’s always better to have BoE). Going abroad, make sure to have BoE – some countries, including France, have refuse d foreign currency exchange except of recent Bank of England notes.

There are three things to remember.

1. All British banknotes, from anywhere in the UK are the same “legal currency”. But no shop or person anywhere in the UK is obliged to accept any “legal currency”. It is up to them. If you are told to go away with a particular banknote, that is the prerogative of the seller.

2. No shop or person anywhere in the UK is obliged to accept any “legal tender”. Many people make mistakes here and think legal tender means it must be accepted. Remembering there is no legal tender in Scotland and NI anyway.
But even in England, there is legal tender – Bank of England notes – but that has nothing to do with whether a shop or person accepts your BoE notes. It is up to them. They can reject them, saying go away, in NI, Scotland, Wales or England. Legal tender is just a meaningless, archaic term today.

3. So, a shop or person can decide themselves which means of payment they want to accept. It is their legal right. Anyway it’s also worth remembering that no shop or person is obliged to sell you anything anyway in the UK anyway.

Even the payment method aside, a shop, by law, is only obliged to sell to a reasonable number of people to qualify it as serving a public function. Shops can reject quite a lot of attempted sales and still fulfill their public function, selling to enough other people.

There it all is – if you buy something, it is up to the shop or person whether they accept any note you offer or not. But they don’t even have to sell anything to you in the first place – it is their decision.

Not great, is it?

The British aren’t excelling at home paper currency arrangements between regions, nor for customer’s rights.
For example, discrimination is easy for shops to pull off. A shop may refuse to sell to you, discriminating against you – but unless it leaves evidence of the discrimination, it can always get away with it.

Went into the bureau de change in the Tesco store at Salford shopping city today to purchase £400 of euros, £130 of this was Scottish notes, the person behind the counter got on the phone to who i presume was her supervisor the told me that they dont accept Scottish notes, i could not beleive this at a bureau de change the deals in money from all over the world, i drove straight to my nearest Asda store whe exchanged my money without question, i will never use a Tesco store again, apart from tomorrow when i go back to the store & take £400 worth of shopping to the checkout & get my Scottish notes out to pay, that should be fun.

If my experience is anything to go by, Tesco checkout operators will happily accept Scottish notes. I think you have just been unlucky.

david bryden says:
7 September 2018

I am just back from the boarders. with some clydesbank notes.If I cannot spend them in my local shops its their loss, I will just leave and shop else where. I can always spend them on my next trip north.

I have just had a gentleman in my shop tiring to pay with a PAPER Northern Irish £10.00 note .it was refused as we do not accept old paper Scottish or English £10.00 notes .The man insisted it was legal tender ,but was still refused .
can anybody help with this confusion ?
Is there plastic Northern Irish £10.00 notes?

ULSTER Bank has announced it will introduce new polymer £5 and £10 notes to Northern Ireland in 2019……….
All Northern Ireland banknotes are legal currency, eligible for use in all sterling transactions across the UK. Current Ulster Bank £5 and £10 notes will remain in circulation until 2019, when they will be removed.
From the Irish News.

Apparently 4 banks have the right to print their own banknotes:
Bank of Ireland
Danske Bank
First Trust Bank
Ulster Bank
I suspect that people may not recognise an Irish note and so will be cautious about taking it.

William swan says:
11 September 2019

I was given an Ulster Bank note of £20 in my weekly pension from the post office , is it legal tender in Scotand .If not what should I do.

This comment was removed at the request of the user

Technically it is not legal tender but it is legal currency. Many shops will accept them but if you have difficulties you can take it back to the Post Office to exchange it or take it to any bank.

Anthony Harris says:
12 November 2020

As far as I’m aware, as long as it is stated on the bank note the word “Stirling” then it is legal tender in the UK.

I would place greater reliance on the word “sterling” for a genuine banknote, but so far as I can see that word [or its impostor] does not appear on a Bank of England note.

Perhaps the Caledonian money shops do things differently – I don’t know, I cannot check because I seem to have run out of Scottish banknotes for some reason, possibly scared by the prospect of the Pound Sturgeon.

Yes , years ago when I worked for one of the major bus companies, I picked up a passenger in the old Birmingham bus station who tendered a Northern Ireland five pounds note. I was dubious about it, but has he rightly commented it had “five pounds sterling” written on it. The bus company which must be one of the biggest and most well known traffic operators in the UK refused to accept it when I paid it in , although they readily accepted the scottish counterparts. I found it astonishing at the time that one of the leading organisations in public transport would quibble over such a paltry issue. It was no real hassle to me , I just went to the bank and swapped it . No problem at all.