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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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Depends where you are.
Up here in a northern tourist area , NI and Scottish banknotes are quite common due to the number of visitors from these regions so absolutely no problem using them.
However giving them out as change to those from the south of the UK can be problematic and have been accused of attempted fraud in the past !
I would expect the big national chains, especially those with outlets in Scotland and NI to accept these notes although I accept it may require a superviser to authorise this.

There are posters available showing these notes which range in denomination from £1 to £100 !

John says:
30 October 2014

Coming from Northern Ireland I always make sure any currency I carry when visiting England is exclusively Bank of England to avoid the hassle. My sister lived in London for many years and she found it much easier to spend any northern ireland currency she picked when she was home on holidays in her local corner shop in London than with any of the large high street chains.

Brenda’s comment: ‘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.’ I did find mildly amusing. I am a shopkeeper and every day my staff and myself deal with bank notes from bank of england, 4 northern ireland banks, 3 scottish banks, 2 channel island banks and the isle of man… that’s a lot of bank notes to determine the veracity of! Even more so when many of them are circulating at least 2 generations of notes at the same time, and we also accept euros being close to the border with the Republic of Ireland. I’m fairly sure they don’t breed people any smarter here than in England.

Seriously though, I do actually wish that the northern ireland banks (I’ll not comment on other regions local currency) would stop producing their own bank notes and use bank of england notes instead. It would make life much simpler when handling money in busy periods and hopefully make spotting suspicious notes easier if there wasn’t so many varieties of bank note to handle.


I’ve worked in a number of retail stores since I was 14 and find it’s all down to the store.

Tesco / Sainsburys: No problems at all. The person on the till will be confused, call a manager, manager will be confused and go and talk to another manager. Then they will agree to accept it.

Co-op Food / Home Bargains: We always said no. There was no official line from head office. But as stores we always used to just turn them down. Then we would always get that annoying customer every 5-6 months kicking off about it being “legal tender” and demanding we take them.

At the end of the day all stores I have worked in hated accepting them, they are nothing but a pain in the back-side.


I have never had any problems with having Scottish notes accepted in England. If the assistant seems confused, I reassure them with a few words in a matching accent.

renniemac says:
31 October 2014

I once had my money refused by a grubby little ice cream shop in Bognor regis. had to go to the TSB to have all of my money changed to English. Scotland when it prints money has to lodge the same amount with the bank of England this insures there is capital to cover. it is a bit rich, when the treasury and b o e will take whisky and other revenue out of Scotland but not declare our money legal. so does that mean I can refuse to accept English notes as I don’t recognise them in Scotland.
This is another titchy subject with me. how dare they!!


In England and Wales the £5,£10, and £50 notes are legal tender for payment of any amount. However, they are notlegal tender in Scotland and Northern Ireland. a quote from The royal mint website. In other words, in Scotland you can quite legally decline to accept any one of these notes if they are proffered to you.

renniemac says:
31 October 2014

John lets just ban English and keep N/Irish and Scottish notes. that would save confusion. I know lets just ban them all and bring out a British note, save confusion and forget about identity, History Tradition. Scotland has produced her own notes for over a thousand years, why should we get rid of our notes because others are too ignorant to take the time to understand. my husband and I were flying out to Vegas from Manchester. stayed at hotel in heeled green.
b/fast next morning husband gave girl £20.00 she went to her boss. This nice man came and told us the girl had never seen a Scottish £20.. note before, but he had. and apologised to us, and took our money. do you see how simple it is when you take the time to find things out.

Mikrik says:
6 November 2014

I agree with Renniemac lets just have one set of British notes.
If the English can’t cope , and it’s only in England there is ever any problem with Notes, then lets make it easy for them.
I do remember someone trying to explain to me years ago why there were multiple notes and it appeared that there was some financial benefit to local banks issuing their notes. However the whole thing didn’t make any real sense to me.
Are there any other countries in the world that have multiple notes issued by multiple banks the way we do ?


No Mickrik, it’s not only in England that there are problems. I used to regularly shuffle between Northern Ireland (NI), Scotland, England and the continent. Scotland was the worst, some of the most ignorant people I’ve ever tried to pay money to. A flat refusal to even consider NI notes and having decided that I must be some kind of international fraudster no help in finding the nearest cashpoint or bank either. That happened twice, once near Stirling and once near Glasgow. I’m still surprised how many shops in Scotland don’t take plastic cards though those that do seldom seem to ask for a surcharge unlike those in England.

Don’t rely on Scottish notes in Germany. Having flown there I had a fistful of Scottish notes that I needed to change. Not only did the bank I visited think that I was trying one on they even kept me talking, proving my identity, completing forms etc. whilst the Police were called. It was the Police not the bank that knew of the existence of Scottish notes as one had travelled there.

Arwel says:
11 June 2015

Yes, Hong Kong has notes issued by (1) the Hong Kong Government, (2) the Hong Kong and Shanghai Banking Corporation, (3) Standard Chartered Bank, and (4) Bank of China.


It is really down to being comfortable about recognising a particular note and the risk involved.
A lot of small stores will not take BoE £50 notes – though we consider them pretty safe from a tourist who has been given several of them by their bank/Bureau de Change.


My father, who used to work for a Scottish Bank, told me that the reason that Scottish banks print their own banknotes is because it saves them money – they don’t have to pay the same rates to the Bank of England as English banks. Something to do with overnight rates, I seem to recall – should have paid more attention!
One thing is certain – Scottish banks would not be printing notes if it was not to their commercial advantage.

Sophie Gilbert says:
4 November 2014

Don’t hate me for suggesting this, but, time the UK switched to the euro??? I know the bank notes look and feel like Monopoly money if you’re not used to them, but that would solve a few problems.

(Slightly off track, but if Scotland had become independent, it is possible that eventually we would have switched to the euro, given the pro-european stance the SNP took from the outset. Not a bad thing in my opinion.)

Sophie Gilbert says:
4 November 2014

I forgot to say, just before the vote on independence we spent the weekend in Newcastle, and paying for stuff with Scottish banknotes sometimes produced good banter between us and the shop assistants. It only added to the pleasure of being there.