So I got a few £20 notes which were intended to be given as pocket money on a child's trip to UK. As the notes looked differently and some were older than other I realized that:

Elgar £20 note no longer legal tender

This means that shops no longer have to accept the notes, and it is up to banks whether they agree to swap notes after this date.


After June 30 if a bank or building society refuses to swap a note, consumers have the right to swap the notes at the Bank of England itself. The Bank promises that it will honour the face value of any note issued, even notes from before the Second World War.

The quote is coming from 2010. I wonder what is the reality about accepting the notes now? Except the mentioned swap at the Bank of England as the article suggests, can the notes be used in everyday (esp. tourist) situations: can the old notes be used in shops, including in airport shops, to buy train tickets? Would a taxi driver accept them? Would I be able to swap them at other banks, not just the Bank of England, is it something doable right in the airport on arrival?

Also - this is already not a part of the question, rather bonus reading - here in Ukraine in one of the state banks I was told that they cannot accept Elgar £20 notes exactly for the reason that they are withdrawn. To top my GBP account I could only use current banknotes.

  • 2
    This is news to me. I've never noticed anyone check who is pictured on the banknote. If it is refused, I really can't imagine that any high street bank would refuse to swap it though.
    – Berwyn
    Jul 1, 2016 at 15:58
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    The Bank of England that issues notes and regulates UK monetary policy (as opposed to a bank in the US using the name) doesn't have branches. The Telegraph article you cited said "...consumers have the right to swap the notes at the Bank of England itself..." which means you need to go to Threadneedle Street.
    – Gayot Fow
    Jul 1, 2016 at 16:14
  • 1
    That actually not what legal tender means, but the effect is still the same.
    – CMaster
    Jul 1, 2016 at 16:38
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    "At some point the story is likely to repeat" - the next design of £5 note (due in September 2016) will be printed on "plastic" not "paper", which will be a more obvious change than just a change of picture. bankofengland.co.uk/banknotes/polymer/Pages/default.aspx.
    – alephzero
    Jul 1, 2016 at 17:55
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    Shops generally don't have to accept anything if they don't want to. There's no obligation on shops to trade. The concept of legal tender is only really relevant for paying debts.
    – bdsl
    Jul 1, 2016 at 23:32

4 Answers 4


I cannot give you an official answer [there is no official answer] but I think you will not have much trouble exchanging it eventually, even if you are rejected a few times.

In most places a £20 note does not receive much scrutiny. Taxi drivers and sole traders may be reluctant; someone at an airport shop, a restaurant or a bar probably won't look very closely.

Personally, I would not pay much attention to the picture if someone gave me a £20 note in change.

You can also exchange the note by post, you don't have to visit the Bank of England in person. http://www.bankofengland.co.uk/banknotes/Pages/about/exchanges/publicpost.aspx

  • 2
    > "In most places a £20 note does not receive much scrutiny" ... some supermarket chains in the UK check all £20 notes with automated scanners before accepting them. That applies to the tills with human checkout operators, not just the self-checkout machines. I have no idea what specific features are checked, though.
    – alephzero
    Jul 1, 2016 at 17:49
  • "By post" option is perhaps fine for UK resident and for some foreigners too, but not for everyone and not for me specifically: in some countries sending cash in mail is illegal; using post while in UK does not fit the format of short term visit. The answers gave me a picture a that eventually I would get rid of the banknotes (if I have just a few of them) without losing their face value, but a rule of thumb for a foreigner would be stay away from them. Especially that at this time it's cash I thought of giving to a child as pocket money - I would hate to find out he has troubles using them. Jul 2, 2016 at 8:31
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    This answer is completely wrong. First, you would never get a £20 note in change because the only way that could happen is if you paid with a £50 note. £50 notes are as rare as hen's teeth: I'm nearly 40 years old and I've had a £50 note in my possession exactly once in my life. Second, the new and old note designs are distinctively and obviously different. Even a cursory glance is enough to distinguish them, especially if you work in a shop so you see hundreds of the things every day. Jul 2, 2016 at 13:17
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    @TimLymington Shops can refuse anything they want: they're under no obligation to do business with anybody. When you go to the checkout, you're offering to buy the things you've picked up. The shop can say, "Thanks, but I don't feel like selling those," regardless of what money you're offering. Jul 2, 2016 at 13:19
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    @TimLymington You've misunderstood. An invitation to treat is specifically not an offer to sell. Placing an item on a shop shelf or even in the window does not constitute an offer to sell (which would form a contract when the customer accepted the price); rather, when you pick up the goods, you're making an offer to buy, which forms a contract when the retailer agrees to sell. This is off-topic but I don't know how to start a chat room. Jul 2, 2016 at 20:30

Differences Between Notes

It is very rare now to see the old style £20 bank notes in UK. Normally when the Bank of England changed the notes they stayed mostly the same but just had a different picture. However with the level of fraud encountered with the old style notes, the bank radically changed the design of the new style £20 note.

Below are specimen notes produced by the bank. The current note: Current £20 note

The old Elgar £20 note:

Old Elgar £20 note

As they look significantly different and are very uncommon now, most shops and traders will reject them. You probably will not be able to spend them in larger shops either as staff tend to reject any notes that they are not use to. This includes notes issued by the Bank of Scotland which also look different to the English £20 note.

Exchanging Notes

As well as being able to exchange notes in person at the Bank of England, you can also exchange them by post. Upto £999 pounds can be exchanged without ID and the money can be returned as cash (upto £50), a sterling check or paid into a sterling bank account. Overseas bank accounts are accepted as long as a BIC/SWIFT number and IBAN is provided.

The instructions of how to do this and the address to send the notes to can be found on the Bank of England's website.

Exchanging for an individual via the post

Image References

  • 3
    You should add that going into any branch of any high-street bank, or any post office, and asking them to exchange a few notes is very likely to be successful. Jul 2, 2016 at 13:22

I've personally had good luck feeding out-of-date notes to the automatic check out machines in supermarkets. Could be worth a try.

Banks will be disinclined to help you if you are not a customer of theirs. THe Bank of England is not an especially pracitcal location to visit.

  • Yes and no on the banks. I think most will balk if you ask them to change a bag of notes, but equally most will change a single note for someone walking in off the street if you ask them nicely and apologetically. (I've done this a couple of times when stuck with Clydesdale £20s, the least easy of Scottish notes to reuse in England...) Jul 1, 2016 at 23:29
  • @Andrew I had a friend visiting from France last summer, with an out-of-date (although previously unused) £50 note. He tried two banks, both stated that they provide that service for customers only.
    – CMaster
    Jul 7, 2016 at 12:23

2017 update.
I have been given some out of date pound notes and coins, mixed with current money.

The high street banks and building societies in England would only deposed the old money into an account with the same bank, and only the more recent notes and coins. The post office did not want to do anything, 'We do not do that at all.'

The bank that did accept the coins into an UK bank account did send us on to the Bank of England website.
On that site they mention they will exchange old bank notes for new if you live within England, send a check or pay into a bank account. And for the 'pay into a bank account' they ask for international details if you want the money send to a bank out of the UK. That same site also mentions you can visit in person and have your money sorted there. Under 1000 pound no ID is needed, for bigger amounts it is.

The bank of England does not do coins, the Mint handles those but on their site they just send people to their banks who will allow them to be handed in when you have an account there. For a few coins, handing them to charities is a good suggestion, but tourist who have quite a few will be having difficulties getting their value.

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