Plastic £5 note launches: what you need to know

13 September 2016

A new £5 note featuring former Prime Minister Sir Winston Churchill launches today, becoming the first Bank of England note to be printed on polymer – a thin flexible plastic.

A number of key features behind the introduction of the plastic note are as follows:

  • It will be cleaner – it’s resistant to dirt and moisture and will therefore remain in a much better condition for longer.
  • It will be stronger – the strength of the polymer material means that the new fiver is expected to last at least 2.5 times longer - around five years - even after being folded into wallets and scrunched up in pockets.
  • It will be safer – the introduction of polymer banknotes allows for a new generation of security features, which the Bank of England says makes it even harder to counterfeit. These include a see-through window and a foil Elizabeth Tower (better known as Big Ben), which is gold on the front of the note and silver on the back.
  • It’s more environmentally friendly – as the notes last longer, it means fewer notes have to be printed, which in turns means less energy is used in manufacturing and cash transportation. When a polymer note has reached the end of its life it will also be recycled.


Mark Carney, governor of the Bank of England says: “The New Fiver will commemorate the achievements of the only Prime Minister to win the Nobel Prize for literature and one of the greatest statesmen of all time – Sir Winston Churchill. As he himself said, ‘a nation that forgets its past has no future’. Like Churchill, the new polymer note will also stand the test of time.”

Can I still use the old style paper £5 notes?

Paper £5 notes will gradually be withdrawn from circulation by retailers and businesses from today.

You will however, still be able to use them as normal until May 2017, after which they will no longer be accepted.

If you have a paper £5 after May 2017, you’ll be able to exchange it at face value in person or by post via the Bank of England. You can’t exchange them at your local bank.

Will other notes also be moved to plastic?

Yes. The new polymer £10 note featuring author Jane Austen will enter circulation in summer 2017, followed by the new polymer £20 featuring painter J.M.W. Turner by 2020.

To help people with visual impairments distinguish between denominations, the notes will still have tiered sizing and include bold numerals and similar colour palettes to the current notes.  In addition, polymer £10 and £20 notes will each have a feature created by a series of raised dots, and the £5 note will be distinguishable by the absence of this feature.

There are no plans at present to replace the existing paper £50 note featuring steam engine pioneers Matthew Boulton and James Watt, which launched in 2011.

A new £1 coin, which will be the same shape as a 12-sided 'threepenny bit' to foil counterfeiters, will be introduced in March 2017. The Royal Mint says roughly one in every 30 £1 coins in circulation is a counterfeit.

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