New and surprising information about Bank of England polymer notes has surfaced in which their lifespan has been put into question. The Bank of England has reported that nearly 50 million polymer £5 and £10 notes have had to be replaced since they were launched due to wear and tear. New figures offered by the bank’s own statistics suggest the damaged notes were replaced mainly due to folds, tears, holes, and wear on the security foil application. The figures, obtained by the Press Association news agency, included information that around 20 million polymer £5 notes and nearly 26 million £10 notes have been exchanged because of damage.
The £5 polymer banknote, which includes an image of Prime Minister Winston Churchill on the back, was launched in 2016, and the £10 denomination, which includes a portrait of 18th-century author Jane Austen, was released the following year. At the time of their launch, the bank stated they expected the new notes to last an average of five years in circulation, compared with an average of just 10 months for the £5 denomination and two years for the £10 paper-based series. However, information about the damaged notes reveals the wear and tear was consistent with expectations, and the number of plastic notes replaced represents a small percentage of the total amount in circulation.
Further information indicated that while the Bank of England expected the polymer notes to have a longer life, they have speculated that it is still too early in the polymer note’s lifecycle to yet understand the rate of replacement of polymer notes. The launching of the bank’s polymer notes was a particular project initiated by Governor Mark Carney, who was the previous governor of the Bank of Canada, and presided over their switch to polymer banknotes between 2011 and 2013. Championing the polymer alternative, he stated polymer notes would be cleaner, safer, and stronger. Carney, whose term as governor ends in March 2020, also pointed out that the use of a polymer substrate meant the notes could better withstand being repeatedly folded into wallets or scrunched up inside pockets.
There have also been claims by the public that engraved printed elements of the banknotes, including the Queen’s portrait, can be rubbed off, as well as the foil security application, which on some notes appeared to peel away. Despite the claims, Governor Carney has recently stated the quality and security of banknotes are central to monetary stability. The Bank of England’s position on polymer notes is that they are safer than paper notes and last twice as long. They are also safer for the environment due to their longevity and their recyclability, and, as such, remain supportive of their use.
From the 20th February, the bank’s third polymer denomination, the £20 note, which is part of the “G” series will be released into circulation. The back will feature a portrait of eminent 19th-century painter Joseph Mallord William Turner (1775-1851). For further information about Bank of England banknotes, please click here.