Future of Payments

The Bank of England’s new polymer fiver is more secure – and tea-proof, too

The Bank of England has launched a new plastic £5 note, featuring a portrait of Sir Winston Churchill on the reverse and extra security measures to help protect against counterfeits.

The polymer banknotes are cleaner, more secure and more durable than current banknotes, which are made from cotton paper, and will provide enhanced resilience to counterfeiting. The additional security features include a see-through window and a foil Elizabeth Tower, which is gold on the front of the note and silver on the back.

Although the number of counterfeit notes in circulation is tiny – 0.0075 per cent in 2015 – the Bank of England wants to stay a step ahead of the counterfeiters, and the new security features will help it do so. Each new polymer note is also expected to last at least 2.5 times longer than the current paper notes. This is because polymer is stronger than paper, meaning the notes can better withstand being repeatedly folded into wallets, scrunched up into pockets, or even dipped in cups of tea.

To be able to process the notes retailers are also having to upgrade their equipment to be able to recognise them, including self-service check-outs, desktop counters, ATMs, ticket machines and any other device that weighs, counts, sorts, accepts, dispenses or recycles banknotes. Software updates may also be required.

Mark Carney, governor of the Bank of England, said: “Like Churchill, the new polymer note will also stand the test of time. It is cleaner, being more resistant to dirt and moisture. It is safer, with better security features. And it is stronger, making it longer lasting and more environmentally friendly.”

The polymer notes are also better for the environment because they last longer, meaning fewer have to be printed and less energy used in manufacturing and transportation. When a polymer note has reached the end of its life, it will be recycled into new plastic products.

The new fiver is the first of the Bank of England’s new series of polymer notes, with the £10 and £20 notes to be replaced with polymer designs over the coming years. The £10 note will be issued in summer 2017 and the £20 note by 2020. Consumers can continue to spend paper £5 notes as usual until 5 May 2017. After this they will cease to be legal tender.

Three Scottish banks are also printing their next £5 and £10 notes on polymer – Clydesdale Bank, Bank of Scotland and RBS. The Royal Mint will also be issuing a new £1 coin in March, which will be harder to fake. The Bank of England periodically replaces notes to introduce the latest new security features and stay ahead of counterfeiters.

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