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Reminder! Spend your paper £20 and £50 notes

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The clock is ticking to spend your paper £20 and £50 notes before businesses will no longer accept them as payment.

The official end date is 30 September 2022 and the Bank of England is urging the public to exchange them before this date. If you prefer to save your pennies and not spend the notes, you can go to your bank and exchange them for a new polymer £20 or £50.

Currently there are £6 billion worth of paper £20 notes in circulation which features the economist Adam Smith, which equates to a total of 300 million £20 notes needing to be exchanged, banked or spent. A total of £8 billion worth of £50 paper notes are still in circulation with the engineers Matthew Boulton and James Watt on the back of the note, this amounts to 160 million £50 notes.

Since the mid-1980s there have been four denominations of bank notes in circulation, the £5, £10, £20 and the £50. All of these banknotes are now made of polymer rather than paper. Polymer was introduced as the new material for UK banknotes starting with the £5 note in 2016.

Polymer has four main benefits:

  • Improved security, such as the see-through windows and holograms
  • They’re more difficult to counterfeit than paper notes
  • They’re much stronger and are expected to last two and a half times longer than a paper note
  • They’re more environmentally friendly, research shows a polymer note is 16% lower in carbon footprint than the paper note. 

To maximise the security of the UK banknotes and to ensure it’s difficult to counterfeit, from time-to-time the Bank of England will change the designs on them. As well as Queen Elizabeth II featuring on the front of every banknote, she is joined on the back of banknotes with a chosen UK citizen who contributed to our diverse heritage.

Currently the designs on each denomination are:

  • £5 – Winston Churchill
  • £10 – Jane Austen
  • £20 – JWM Turner
  • £50 – Alan Turing

In 2020 the new polymer £20 note officially went into circulation and featured artist, JWM Turner, an English Romantic painter from London whose work was seen as transformative and his pieces are housed in Tate Britain.

The Turner Bequest celebrates his work, including 300 oil paintings and also thousands of sketches and watercolours. The £20 banknote features a self-portrait of the artist and, on its release, the Bank of England partnered with Snapchat to develop a lens that brought the note to life through augmented reality.

The new polymer £50 note went into circulation in 2021 and features mathematician, Alan Turing.

The appearance of Alan Turing on the £50 banknote has been symbolic for the LGBT+ community in addressing the way gay men were persecuted. Alan Turing, who was gay at a time when it was illegal, was convicted for being in a relationship with another man and in 2009 the UK Government apologised for how he was treated.

He was a significant figure in shortening World War II and saving lives because he helped allies to read German naval messages that were encrypted with the Enigma machine and was also a key developer of early computers.

If you happen to forget the deadline or find a £20 paper note in your jeans, check with your local post office or bank branch as they may still exchange it for you. After 30 September 2022 it’s important to remember shops and business will no longer accept the paper £20 and £50 notes, so don’t get stuck at the checkout!

The Bank of England has advised that they will always exchange any withdrawn notes including paper banknotes from the past.

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