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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.


Scottish notes are seldom a problem, and you sometimes get them in change around Euston and King’s Cross. But try buying a pint of beer with a £50 note. Or paying a cab fare. You get much tooth-sucking about taking all their change and ostentatious holding it to the light and similar fannying around. In Euroland you always get €50 notes from cash dispensers and there’s never any problem using them, even for just a coffee. No idea why the difference.

Suzanne says:
6 November 2014

There is a lot of confusion with regard to these bank notes. Most customers will not accept them in their change . It’s just lack of knowledge and unfamiliar view .


Now that Scotland has declared that it wants to continue as part of the UK, perhaps we should celebrate by introducing UK notes and doing away with all the variety. We are going to have plastic notes soon, so that might be a good time to make the move.

Gavan says:
20 July 2017

It would make a lot of sense. Who wants varying banknotes? They’re just banknotes!
The only thing is, though, that there is no Bank of UK to do it.

It would take a major statutory change in law, from Parliament in Westminster, enabling one source to issue one single banknote.
One of whole dysfunctions of British law is it’s very archaic nature and even it’s utter devotion to being archaic and unreasonably so – being historical much more than current.
These laws allowing the Bank of England and other, regional banks to issue their own versions of the British pound banknotes are so old.

People in England especially jam their bread at their breakfasts in the mornings tied to these old laws.
This is not a modern nation, by any means. It is one that clings to every possible archaic term and convention as if they are both all truth and love (and romance) and changing them will bring nuclear destruction of the planet tommorrow or much earlier.

Yes, Parliament could easily just make a law for one UK currency, and I think few sane people would object.
But firstly, that would be foregoing archaic clinging in laws which may not even be a possibility in this country.
Secondly, are there any sane people in this nation anyway?


It’s called tradition, Gavan, and a lot of people like it this way. For those who want up-to-date BoE banknotes they are available and easily spendable anywhere in the UK. The fact that they do not have “Bank of the United Kingdom” on them makes no difference to my mind. “England” and “Britain” have long been metaphors for the United Kingdom. Since Scotland has rejected secession from the UK the present arrangement might as well continue.


Deep in the inner recesses of my wallet, behind the cobwebs and the moths, there lurk a Royal Bankf of Scotland £5 note and a Clydesdale Bank £20 note dated 1995 and 2003 respectively. I keep these as a special reserve that I could not normally spend but would probably get me out of a scrape in an emergency. But with recent years’ inflation they have lost their buying power and I occasionally wonder whether to cash them in. I had assumed that I would have to take them to one of the Scottish banks in Norwich [RBS or HBOS] to exchange them but I am pleased to learn that I can do that at any bank. I have also wondered whether I should pay them into my Nationwide account via a cash machine – any ideas on whether that would work without complications? I might just keep these dog-eared documents for their novelty and nostalgia value together with my faded Bank of England 10/- and £1 notes of various vintages. The Scottish notes have rather attractive pictures of Robert Bruce [Clydesdale] and Culzean Castle [RBS]. Personally, I don’t think we should give up these quaint but distinctive emblems of our different – but united – countries and I’m pleased the Royal Mail still produces separate definitive stamps for the four domains. Perhaps it’s now only a matter of time before the HSBC starts issuing Chinese banknotes.


Moving towards UK notes does not mean that we have to dispense with the variety of artwork, John. It has been normal practice to feature the same pictures on notes of a particular denomination, but we manage to have variety on stamps.

renniemac says:
8 November 2014

the Scottish notes are not some trivial quaintness to reminisce over, they are our National currency and identity, LEAVE THEM ALONE. don’t try and assimilate us into sameness, really!!


In the present political climate I do not think there is any likelhood at all that Scottish banks will be prohibited from issuing their own bank notes and I doubt whether that the relevant banks would wish to surrender their banknote issuing authority voluntarily. Incidentally, the three Scottish banks and four Northern Ireland banks that are authorised to issue their own notes do not have to lodge funds with the BoE but they are required to hold sufficient backing assets equivalent to all their banknotes in circulation, so these assets can remain in Scotland or Ulster as applicable. The BoE monitors compliance and adequacy but does not concern itself with other aspects of the issuance of the banknotes [including, significantly, the prevention of counterfeiting]. This arrangement was laid down by the UK Parliament to give holders of Scottish and Northern Ireland banknotes equivalent protection to that provided by the Bank of England for holders of their notes.

AlastairN says:
23 November 2014

Scottish Banks WILL NOT exchange Scottish bank notes, even their own branded notes, for Bank of England bank notes UNLESS you are a customer theirs. I have had first-hand experience of this at Clydesdale Bank, Bank of Scotland and the Royal Bank of Scotland. I live in Scotland. I wanted to exchange Scottish notes for Bank of England notes for an upcoming trip to England. My personal bank account is located in England. I was told to pay the notes I wanted to exchange into my bank account. OK, but how would I obtain Bank of England notes in Scotland if they only pay out Scottish notes through their cash machine?!
Apparently, all this is Bank Policy in Scotland. It is not only bizarre and dare I say it moronic that when all you want to do is exchange Cash for Cash you need to reflect it over your bank account. Bank staff quote that it is to do with Money Laundering. What a load of absolute bull. If they are unwilling to exchange their very OWN notes for Bank of England bank notes for a trip to England there is something seriously wrong with the Scottish Banking system. This action violates a promise on their bank notes which states that their banknotes are exchangeable for Pounds Sterling. Scottish Bank Compliance Directors have completely misinterpreted Anti Money Laundering regulations and have simply made this rule up themselves. It is simply wrong for Scottish banks to refuse to exchange their own notes for Bank of England banknotes. It is like operating Exchange Controls within the same currency. It is mad. Sort it out Banks in Scotland; your policies are illogical and frustratingly wrong.


I see things have not changed because the same thing happened to me as far back as 1990.

I was on holiday in Edinburgh and was due to drive back to the south of England later that day. Short of cash I went to the cashpoint of my bank and withdraw £50 and then noticed it was all Scottish notes. I walked into the bank and asked the cashier if she would exchange the Scottish notes for English ones, as the Scottish notes are not legal tender south of the border.
She refused and even after speaking to the branch manager they wouldn’t budge. In the end I actually paid the £50 back into my account, and then waited until I got to Newcastle for my money.

Yorkshire lad in Scotland says:
4 March 2015

I’ve had suspicious looks trying to spend my hard earned Scottish money down in England and only once ever had trouble shifting it. I was refused service in one sandwhich shop, I ordered a fair whack of stuff on another visit and gladly left it at the counter to their own inconveniance and expence. Petty but point made. I know they don’t have to accept it, but the tax I pay all goes in the same pot as their’s.


I thought that the first plastic notes were due to be released early in 2015, but have not heard anything recently.

What will happen to Scottish notes when plastic arrives?


They’ll be made of Mackintosh material.


I read the other day, apropos the new pound coin designs, that the plastic BoE banknotes are due to be issued in 2016 starting with the fiver. Apparently they will be smaller than present notes so dispensers and payment machines will need recofiguration and a new polymer production plant has to be opened in Cumbria to supply the material on which the notes will be printed. The article didn’t say what the Scottish and Northern Ireland banks will do.


Maybe it is time to drop the term ‘pay with plastic’ from our vocabulary. It could become confusing when the new currency shares our wallet with credit cards.

Will we still call the new pieces of plastic banknotes?


I read this morning that Clydesdale Bank is to start issuing a limited edition of two million £5 polymer banknotes a year ahead of the Bank of England’s plastic issue.

Joe N. Ireland says:
22 March 2015

If you live anywhere in the UK whether it’s England, N.Ireland, Wales or Scotland and you are traveling for example too any EU countries then you have to get sterling changed into Euros. What’s the big deal? If you live in say Northern Ireland and your going to England just change your notes before you go, if this is too much hassle then leave your money in the bank and lift it from an ATM in England or simply walk into any bank in England and they will gladly change the currency you have into their local currency. In failing this just buy things using your debit card if you have one.

If this all seems too much hassle for you then your going to struggle through live in general no matter what you do and you’d be safer staying at home….lol.

Just for the record, the most counterfeited note was the Adam Smith £20 note which is a Bank Of England note and anyone in Northern Ireland will tell you it is the most scrutinized note over here along with most other Bank Of England notes so if I lived in England I’d be more worried about my own Bank Of England notes more than any other UK notes plus this is why there are devices like UV lights and detection markers available, they are low cost and will remove any doubt. Personally I would welcome any UK note, I’d be more worried about Euros as I’ve came across some pretty good counterfeit ones over the past few years.

Mr. JCB says:
26 April 2015

I went with my younger son to Mc Donald’s in Harrow Middlsex.
I had a £20 Scotish bank note. Because my older son went to Scotland for a brake.
He gave me this note. I’m disabled as well.
But when I went to pay the flatly refused, I told them that Scoclqnd is on the same iland,
They went to Speke to maybe the manager. But still would not take it.
I found this very in braising and made me feel like a criminal.
I have looked this up and it’s saying they can be aseptic in London.
This is a big company so why are they like this.

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!


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.

Brandon Dunn says:
3 December 2016

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.