New plastic £5 notes ready for issue

The new £5 note will feature Sir Winston Churchill. Credit: PA

From next week we will all have a new addition to our wallets, with plastic £5 notes featuring Sir Wiston Churchill set to enter circulation.

The new banknotes will be released on Tuesday, and in a break from the Bank of England's current paper notes, they will be printed on polymer - a thin, flexible, plastic film, which is seen as cleaner, more secure and stronger.

But why are the old notes being replaced and can they still be used?

  • Why is the fiver being replaced?

From time to time the Bank of England replaces notes to introduce new security features and stay ahead of counterfeiters.

New notes also mean that different characters can be featured.

As well as the £5 note, the next £10 and £20 notes will also be printed on polymer.

  • Why plastic notes?

Polymer notes should last longer, stay cleaner, and are harder to counterfeit than paper notes.

The new notes can last around five years, and it has been suggested that they can survive a spin in the washing machine.

  • Will the new £5 note look different?

The new notes are around 15% smaller than the old £5 banknotes, and because they are made from plastic they feel different too.

Brand new polymer notes can sometimes stick together, but the Bank of England says this is short-lived once they are in use. Tapping the new notes on a hard surface like a desk top may make them easier to count.

  • Will the new notes still fold?

Even though the new £5 notes are made of plastic, they are very thin and flexible, so they will still be able to fold up in your wallet.

  • Can the old notes still be used?

The paper £5 notes which picture Elizabeth Fry can still be used until they are withdrawn from circulation in May 2017, after this they will no longer be accepted.

After May 2017, old paper notes can be exchanged with the Bank of England.

Genuine Bank of England banknotes retain their face value forever.

  • Will the £50 note become plastic?

While £10 and £20 notes will become plastic in the future, there are no plans to replace the £50 note, and the Bank will announce the material for future £50 notes in due course.

  • Do other countries use polymer notes?

More than 30 countries use polymer notes, including Australia, New Zealand, Mexico, Singapore, and Canada.

In Scotland, Clydesdale Bank issued polymer banknotes in 2015 to commemorate the 125th anniversary of the opening of the Forth Bridge.

The new notes will be harder to counterfeit. Credit: PA
  • How will the new notes be resistant to counterfeiters?

The new note's security features include a see-through window featuring the Queen's portrait; a hologram which contains the word "five" and changes to "pounds" when the note is tilted; and a hologram of the coronation crown which appears 3D and multi-coloured when the note is tilted.

New £5 note facts and figures

  • Some 440 million new plastic fivers have been created and will gradually enter circulation. This is £2.2 billion!

  • Currently there are around 329 million paper £5 notes in circulation, so it will take time for the existing notes to be replaced

  • The new notes can last around 2.5 times - or five years - longer than paper notes

  • Being plastic means the new notes are resistant to dirt and moisture, helping them to last for longer

  • Only 0.0075% of notes in the UK are counterfeit

  • The portrait of Sir Winston Churchill which appears on the new notes is from a photograph taken by Yousuf Karsh in 1941 as well as a view of Westminster

  • Beneath Sir Winston's portrait reads his declaration in his first speech as Prime Minister: "I have nothing to offer but blood, toil, tears and sweat"

  • In 2015, 21,835 banknotes were replaced due to damage, including 10,761 notes which were torn

  • Next summer polymer £10 notes featuring Jane Austen will be issued

  • By 2020 new polymer £20 notes featuring JMW Turner will be issued