No cash please, we’re British

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Paper five pound notes are no longer legal tender in England and Wales. They never were in Scotland and Northern Ireland. An 1845 act of parliament allowed three Scottish banks to print their notes but the Bank of England has operated a monopoly in England and Wales since 1921. Anyone extracting money from an ATM in Edinburgh or Belfast cannot spend them in London, unless the retailer agrees. Most do not.  This annoying anomaly, which must confuse tourists, is unlikely to be resolved as paper currency approaches the end of its lifespan.

The European Union has proposed restrictions on large cash transactions. Some of its members, such as Italy, Spain and France already have restrictions in place. Australia has experimented with cashless welfare and saw cash transactions fall from 70% in 2007 to 47% in 2013. Since then the demand for coins has dropped by 25%. Consumers are embracing the convenience of electronic payment but governments are slow to see the advantages of reducing tax evasion and red tape.

The expensive redesign of the five pound note on polymer with an image of Winston Churchill is intended to reduce a forgery rate of less than 1%. Credit card fraud has a similar rate but a higher value. Vegetarians have already boycotted the new note due to the use of tallow, something that the Bank of England’s consultations failed to identify. As other consumers continue to pay with their phones and cards, the United Kingdom must finally unite currency in its domains by leading on the abolition of archaic cash.


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