Bank Notes

VIDEO – Get started by watching this video from the Bank of England about bank notes.

A key role of the Bank of England is to maintain confidence in the currency.


  • In 2019 the number of banknotes taken out of circulation was around 427,000– a face value of approx. £9.8million (source)
  • In 2019 the largest number of counterfeit notes was in the £20 note – this removed 416,000 notes from circulation. This is less than 0.02% of all the £20 notes. (source)
  • It is illegal to spend fake money and you could go to prison for it.
  • If you receive a counterfeit note you lose out: it isn’t worth anything so you can’t get a refund for it.  (Source for these facts is here)

 In the 1990’s ‘The Lavender Hill Mob’ produced over £50 million worth of counterfeit money in £20 notes. As a result of their activity, the Bank of England changed the £20 note to include more security features (Source).

IMPORTANT FACTS- Polymer Bank Notes

The key security features of current bank notes are shown in the following table:

(note: this table can’t be viewed on a phone) 

Security FeatureSpecialcotton paperRaised PrintMetallic ThreadWatermarkSharp print qualityMicroletteringUV FeatureHologramHolographicStripSee-through registerMotion thread
£5 (William Churchill)XXXXX  
£10 (Jane Austen)XXXXX  X 
£20 (J M W Turner)XXXXX XX 
£50(Matthew Boulton and James Watt)XXXXXXX  XX

You can see images of how these security features are displayed on each note by going here.  Most of the features will be familiar to you but make sure you are clear on different features of the £20 and £50 notes.

How the Bank of England tackles counterfeit notes:

  • Security features of banknotes make them difficult and time consuming to copy 
  • Education and training materials, including a banknote checking app, help cash users check that their banknotes are genuine 
  • Close work with law enforcement agencies helps to tackle larger counterfeiting operations connected with organised crime
  • The Machine Testing Framework allows banknote equipment manufacturers to test their machines with known counterfeits on a regular basis
  • Implements a code of conduct for banknote authentication for businesses that own ATMs
  • Uses legislation, notably The Forgery and Counterfeiting Act 1981. The maximum sentence under this act is ten years’ imprisonment.
  • Encourages the public to report counterfeits to their local police or anonymously to Crimestoppers on 0800 555 111. If information leads to an arrest and charge, there may be a cash reward.

The Bank of Englad have gradually been replacing traditional cotton paper notes with polymer, or plastic notes. The polymer £20 is the most recent, being launched in 2020. The Bank of England believes polymer-based notes will provide the following benefits:

1 – They remain clean – polymer is resistant to dirt and moisture

2 – Secure – they will provide enhanced counterfeit resistance 

3 – Durable – they last at least 2.5 times longer than paper banknotes, and are therefore more environmentally friendly

The polymer notes will be about 15% smaller than the current notes. A full list of their security features can be found here

Counterfeit Currency UK 10 Pound Note Warning | LYBIO.NET Discover ...

REAL LIFE EXAMPLE – In 2008, bin-man Graham Hill found £10,000 in cut-up £10 and £20 notes. The Bank of England said that they would give him old notes for new if he could match-up all the fragments. Read the story in full here.

REAL LIFE EXAMPLE – In January 2014, four men were jailed for seven years after they engineered a £1.3m counterfeit scam in fake £10 notes. Read the full story here.

TRIVIA – An artist created a portrait of the Queen using banknotes for the Diamond Jubilee. It had a face value of £10,000.


Security features are not restricted to notes: coins also have features such as metallic composition, weight and lettering. However, for some currencies that have been in circulation for long periods of time, counterfeits can be commonplace. For instance, it is reported that one in thirty British one pound coins are of counterfeit origin. As a result, The Royal Mint rolled out a new pound coin on 28th March 2017. They have described it as soon to be ‘the most secure coin circulating the world to date’: There is a dedicated new one pound website.

New features include

1 – Sandwich layered metal

2- 12 sides (Dodecagon)

3 – No surface coating means they will not wear over time

TRIVIA –  People have been counterfeiting money for thousands of years! There are Ancient Greek coins that contain test cuts to see if the base metal was actually silver and not bronze. This practice dates back over 2,400 years (source).