Northern Irish banknotes

A comedian called Michael McIntyre (a not very funny one though, like most of the stand-up so-called “comedians” you see on TV these days) did a routine about Scottish banknotes. His main point was that despite being sterling and thus legal tender in all parts of the UK, they generally aren’t accepted in England. Much the same as Northern Irish banknotes – an age old rant familiar to many who on crossing the Irish Sea find that their hard-earned Bank of Ireland, Ulster Bank and Northern Bank notes, although being sterling currency of legally equal value to Bank of England notes, just don’t cut it.

A few years ago, I was returning to London after being home for Christmas. Knowing that my local bank notes wouldn’t be accepted once I got off the plane at Stansted, I tried to get them changed at Belfast International airpport. On being told to my utter bewilderment that there was a charge (yes a fucking charge to change sterling notes into different sterling notes of the same denomination of equal value) I point blankly refused and walked way in disgust, resigned to the fact hat I’d have to wait till the next time I went home to use up these notes.

How fucking ridiculous can you get?

Even machines don’t seem to accept them – I’ve tried on ticket machines at train stations and at the self-service check-out in supermarkets, but the machines are just too clever.

So why the fuck do the NI and Scottish banks issue their own notes in the first place if they’re not accepted in the same currency zone? Ironically they’re more likely to be accepted in the Eurozone in places like Lifford, Letterkenny or Louth than in London, Luton or Leicester.

Now if we all adopted the euro, none of this would be happening…;-)



  1. I always found this to be a ridiculous anomaly. These NI and Scottish coupons are not even legal tender in England (from wiki “Bank of England notes are the only banknotes that are legal tender in England and Wales. Scottish, Northern Ireland, Jersey, Guernsey and Manx banknotes are not legal tender in England and Wales. However, they are not illegal under English law and creditors and traders may accept them if they so choose.”)
    It would be quite simple to say that only Bank of England notes should be issued but maybe this is some kind of fob to the ‘nations’. I am not sure that they are pleasing anybody though, the only thing you want with your money is to be able to spend it after all.

  2. I’m not sure that’s true at all. The Northern Irish, Scottish and Welsh banknotes aren’t ‘legal tender’? They are full sterling banknotes issued by British banks. As far as I’m aware, they’re all legal tender within the UK, but may not be full international legal tender as sterling outside of the UK where an institution does not have the means to confirm this or not at time of presenting (for example for foreign exchange).

  3. … However, considering that few people seem to know or care about this, I sympathise with Aidan’s view that these notes should be withdrawn, as they cause much more hardship and harm than benefit. Much more. As a Northern Irish person, I’m very used to it, in The UK and also abroad.

    (However, on one visit to France, after terrible troubles with Northern Irish sterling notes in the same mountain resort area during my previous visit, I made sure to get Bank of England notes. This was the only BoE note for the denomination in circulation then, and had been in circulation for around a year. The same institutions found that they could not find the image of the note on their computers, and still refused to accept for foreign exchange the only BoE banknote in one denomination available at the time. Until, over more than an hour, as usual, I didn’t give up and had to fetch my passport from back at my lodgings and sign something.)

  4. I think I’ve added to the confusion – and it is a confusing thing.

    It’s the meaning of ‘legal tender’ which confuses, and I forgot and got it wrong in my first post above. There is actually no nationwide ‘legal tender’ in the UK at all.

    The term ‘legal tender’ (at least for the UK) does not have the meaning that can designate that all notes which are ‘legal tender’ must be accepted within the nation. It doesn’t mean that at all.

    Concerning banknotes of the UK, ‘legal tender’ only means notes which are issued within one region (or in the archaic, further confusing UK terminology ‘country’, meaning a ‘land’ or region within the one nation of the UK; ie. England, Scotland, N.I., Wales) for use within that same region.

    Therefore, as the Bank of England’s website indicates, there is no nationwide ‘legal tender’ whatsoever within the UK. BoE notes are only ‘legal tender’ within England and the BoE cannot produce legal tender for any other region of the UK, and the same is true for the banks in the other regions producing notes, their notes are the legal tender within that region.

    The Bank of England’s website points out that all sterling notes are as acceptable as any other within any region of the UK. I remember from looking at this in the past, it is very likely to nearly sure that that means that it is obligatory that all currently valid sterling banknotes are accepted by all and any traders in any region of the country, unless a trader is unsure about the validity of a certain sterling note and does not have the means to confirm it at the time of presentation. I remember reading the parts of law which make that out, and that seems to be the only interpretation possible from there, and in (obiter dicta, and I think I remember a few short ratio decisions) case law this was made clear. Acceptable tender means, more or less, it has to be accepted by all and any traders within the nation unless there is a genuine reason why a trader cannot at one point in time.

    So, the confusion is with that many people can think the term ‘legal tender’ means safe currency note or coin that has to be accepted by a trader within the nation. But ‘legal tender’ is only relevant within isolated regions of the nation, and never nationwide in The UK.

    However again, while again I suppose many people are not aware of this at all, including probably most traders, ‘acceptable tender’ in law does turn out to mean that it has to be accepted by all or any traders, but the exception that a genuine prevention means it does not probably has confused people further. Probably people think ‘acceptable tender’ only means CAN be accepted, doesn’t have to be accepted. But no, ‘acceptable tender’ notes means notes that have to be accepted by law, unless there is a genuine reason preventing it in an individual case.

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