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The new £50 note: eight things you need to know

From when it’s released to how rare it could be

The new £50 note: eight things you need to know

The design of the new polymer £50 note has been unveiled, featuring an image of computer pioneer Alan Turing along with a number of groundbreaking security features.

Here, Which? tells you everything you need to know about the Bank of England’s most secure note yet.

1. It will be released this summer

The note will enter circulation on 23 June this year to mark what would have been Turing’s 109th birthday.

Old paper £50 notes will still be valid for a period after this date. The Bank of England still hasn’t withdrawn paper £20 notes, despite launching the new polymer £20 note in February 2020, so you might be able to use paper £50s for a while.

2. It’s hard to counterfeit

Appropriately, considering Alan Turing’s pivotal role in cracking Second World War codes, the Bank of England says the polymer £50 sits alongside the polymer £10 and £20 notes as the most secure it has produced.

Key security features include a hologram that changes between the words ‘Fifty’ and ‘Pounds’ when the note is tilted, and a number ‘50’ that only appears under ultraviolet light.

Elements such as these make the note extremely difficult for criminals to duplicate, reducing the chances of fake notes entering circulation.

3. It’s the first UK banknote to feature an LGBT+ figure

Alan Turing is a computing pioneer, a war hero and a gay icon.

He helped invent modern computing as we know it and helped end the Second World War through his work cracking the Enigma code.

After the war, Turing was convicted and inhumanely punished for having a relationship with another man, which was illegal at the time. Soon afterwards, in 1954, he took his own life.

In 2014, more than 50 years after he was convicted, Turing received a posthumous royal pardon for the conviction in response to a high-profile campaign. This pardon was later extended to all men who were persecuted under now-abolished anti-gay laws with the introduction of a new rule known as the ‘Alan Turing law’.

Unveiling the design last week, the Bank of England’s governor, Andrew Bailey, said: ‘Alan Turing was a gay man, whose transformational work in the fields of computer science, codebreaking and developmental biology, was still not enough to spare him the appalling treatment to which he was subjected.

‘By placing him on this new £50 banknote, we celebrate him for his achievements, and the values he symbolises, for which we can all be very proud.’

4. It’s sustainable

The switch from paper notes to plastic notes might not obviously be a sustainable one, but the Bank of England says all its polymer notes can be recycled.

In November 2019, the Which? Money Podcast visited a plant that recycles polymer £20 notes, turning them into plastic pellets that make household items such as plant pots.

Listen to the episode below to find out how it’s done:

The Bank also says polymer notes last longer than paper notes and will stay in better condition throughout their use.

5. It might not be used that much

If you can’t recall whose picture is on the current paper £50 note, you’re not alone. Of over four billion banknotes in circulation this year, only 357 million are £50 notes. That’s less than 10% of the total.

There’s been some debate as to whether £50 notes even need to exist, and concern that they may be used primarily as part of the ‘shadow economy’, which includes crime.

6. It contains a secret message

You’ll get an additional kick out of the note’s design if you can read binary code. A ribbon next to Turing’s portrait reads ‘1010111111110010110011000’. This converts to the decimal numbers 23061912, alluding to Turing’s date of birth: 23/06/1912.

This Easter egg is just one of the many aspects of the design that reference Turing and his legacy.

Bank of England chief cashier, Sarah John, with the new note at the production plant. Source: Bank of England

7. It could be collectable

There’s no guarantee a rare note will ever be worth more than its legal tender, but that doesn’t mean some of them won’t end up catching collectors’ eyes.

Avid currency collectors will want to get their hands on a new £50 note with a low serial number.

A note’s serial number indicates when it was printed. Each time a new design enters circulation, the serial number changes to AA01 000001. Notes numbered close to that have been known to fetch large sums at auction.

Usually, the first three notes are presented to dignitaries. The 000001 and 000002 notes are always given to the Queen and Prince Philip, respectively.

In 1971, a £5 note with the serial number AA01 000004 was presented to Chancellor of the Exchequer Anthony Barber. Decades later in May 2017, it sold for £16,800 at auction.

Some collectors will also be on the lookout for the last paper £50 note ever printed, which will have the highest serial number instead of the lowest.

8. You’ll always be able to swap them

There’s no need to rush out and spend any £50 notes you have sitting at home. First, you’ll be given a six-month warning before the paper banknotes are withdrawn.

Then, even after shops stop accepting them, many banks will still let you pay them in.

Even if your bank turns you away, the Bank of England honours every banknote ever printed, so you’ll always be able to take or post your note to London to swap it for a new one.

Cash is still vital to millions of people

Recent research from Which? shows that there are two and a half million people in the UK who are reliant on cash to pay for essential products. A further seven million people say they would struggle without cash.

Despite the fact that 10 million aren’t ready to lose access to cash, the cash network continues to shrink.

Since the start of 2020, 3,300 free-to-use cash machines have closed across the UK, with 431 banks closing over the same period, at the rate of a bank a day. The overall number of ATMs in the UK has fallen by almost 20% in the past three years from 67,300 to 54,400. The number of bank branches has fallen by 40% – from 9,900 to 6,000 – since 2015.

The pandemic has piled further pressure on the UK’s cash infrastructure, which has been hit by a sharp decline in businesses accepting cash.

Which? is now urging the government to publish its vision for the future of cash. The government must work with industry and regulators to set out the steps that will be taken to develop and introduce legislation to protect access to cash promised in the 2020 Budget at the earliest opportunity.

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