By Jim Scott
The £50 note is one of Britain’s least popular notes, often associated with money laundering and fraud due to its higher than average value. The paper £50 note has been debated by ministers over its continued use and reincarnation in plastic. But as the Bank of England confirmed over the weekend that it would receive a new lease of life after mounting pressures from public and government. Is the circulation of a new £50 note worth the risk?
Initially, the government had plans to remove £50 notes along with 1p and 2p coins from circulation several years ago. At the beginning of 2018, plans revealed digital payments had overtaken cash and ministers argued the production of "unnecessary" values could cost the country more in the long-term.
The scrapping of "small change" was later withdrawn over fears charities would be "hit the hardest" for donations. Whilst the Financial Times revealed the Treasury still claimed £50 notes were "rarely used" for routine purchases by UK consumers and criminal use had soared.
It was largely reported that ministers were concerned that the current £50 note was "only being used by criminals", inspiring debate over whether the notes would be withdrawn completely. In August one man was given a six-month suspended jail sentence for using a forged £50 note.
In September North Yorkshire Police urged people in the county to check whether their £50 notes were legitimate after an "increase" of counterfeits. Supporting the case for withdrawal, the Treasury said: "The £50 note is instead held as a store of value.
"There is also a perception among some that £50 notes are used for money laundering, hidden economy activity and tax evasion."
Meanwhile, the Australian Financial Review reported that Tom Keating, director of the Centre for Financial Crime and Security Studies, called the refresh of £50 notes a missed opportunity to stop crime dead in its tracks.
The Sun reports the British government "demanded" the Bank of England print new plastic, polymer £50 notes instead.
It quoted comments by the treasury minister, Robert Jenrick, who said Britain's currency is "recognised" all across the world and plays a part in "UK heritage and identity". Jenrick made assurances that the new polymer £50 would have cutting edge security measures to prevent the criminal use seen in some of the 330 million notes currently in circulation.
A date has not been set for the introduction of a new £50 note. The planned £20 polymer note will need to be introduced by its target date of 2020 first. But time will tell whether new plastic notes will prevent the type of criminal use seen in our current notes.