“Hey that’s legal tender” Why is it so hard to use an NI bank note in England?

Righteo Sluggerverse, I need your help to answer some questions for me and I want to promote an issue.

I regularly make trips back and forth to London to visit my Mum and each time I come over I am faced with the usual problem of running about to get to an ATM that dispenses Bank of England notes or secretly cursing the cashier at the City Airport bar who gives me a Bank of Ireland fiver just before I board the plane for Heathrow.

When I get here I am always plagued with the problem of getting rid of my Northern Irish bank notes, yet they are all part of the same currency and backed by the same central bank. For me it is one of most infuriating experiences of going to London, since we are part of the same monetary union,  why should  folks living in Northern Ireland be subjected to this nonsense just because some people cannot be bothered to accept our local bank notes.

I could let this pass if we were as picky about accepting Bank of England notes or other regional currencies.

So, my question for you all is this; Is this something that just impacts me when I go over to London, or are there a lot of places that will accept our notes?

Why is it so, that there is this problem of using NI bank notes in England?

Answers on a post card please, but as this Michael McIntyre sketch shows it is something that impacts our Scottish counterparts too;


  • RS86

    Technically, the notes are not legal tender, although are legal notes:


    I make the trip back home on a regular basis and encounter the same issue when returning with some of NI notes! Some places will accept them, others will look at you oddly as if you were trying to defraud them. Basically, people are not used to seeing them. Generally some persuasion will see them accepted, or I can offload them in the staff canteen where I’m known!

  • Ernekid

    Theres actually a fascinating history behind the bank notes of Britain and Ireland. Banks were free to issue their own bank notes until the 1844 Bank Charter Act, Which restricted banknote issuing powers to the Bank of England. This Act was only enforced in England and Wales so Scottish and Irish banks continued to produce their own banknotes.

    This would continue in Northern Ireland following partition. Northern Irish banknotes are legal currency, but technically not legal tender anywhere (including Northern Ireland itself) as they are technically promissory notes and Retailers in Britain are under no obligation to accept them

    Theres more info here https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Banknotes_of_the_pound_sterling#Northern_Ireland

  • Used to be because anything from Ireland was an ‘Irish’ £, even with ‘Sterling’ written on the note. Also, some banks charge for handling as they must be returned to the issuer – as Ernekid says. Less of a problem these days with RoI in Euro. Easy enough to stock up on Eng notes at airport cash machines, so not really the problem it was 30 years ago.

  • tanyaj

    I’ve given up even trying, except at the Co-op in Holyhead. The benefit is that English relatives hand over their banknotes as they leave Enniskillen….

  • Granni Trixie

    I really thnk it’s solidly that people in England think if note says “Ulster” or Bank of Ireland it is a different currency to sterling or “Irish” which is Euro and worth less than the pound.

    tip:When I was stuck for cash in London and all I had was one of our £20 notes I used a self serve machine in Tesco. bIngo,no problem – I bought a paper and had the rest for change.

  • Dan

    Always enjoy paying for a meal in England with NI banknotes just to see whether there’s any ‘excuse me Sir but…’ .
    Haven’t had any problem for years now though.

  • AndyB

    Did you know that if you offer a Bank of England £20 note as legal tender to pay a debt of 50p the other person isn’t obliged to give you change? Apparently legal tender only comes into it when satisfying debts (say at the end of a meal in a restaurant), and UK coins and Bank of England notes can’t be refused.

    Bank of England notes are only legal tender in England and Wales, and indeed they are the only notes which must be accepted in England and Wales. NI notes and Scottish notes are not legal tender anywhere, but in practice in NI we take pretty much anything that says “Sterling” on it because NI and Scottish notes are secured on deposits the issuing banks hold in the Bank of England.

    Mind you, I’ve found that more places, particularly touristy places, are taking NI notes in England than used to be.

  • Haven’t had any trouble handing over NI banknotes in England for years, as soon as you point to the word Sterling and smile saying “Ireland uses the Euro and it’s not one of those!” they take it.

  • ben__w

    Many countries — and currency areas — avoid this problem by having standard banknotes.

    A few years back I was buying petrol in remotest Wales and all the cash I had was in the charming Scottish £20s that show Robert the Bruce cutting Henry de Bohun’s head off. They had not been seen in Llareggub before.

  • Chingford Man

    The self-checkouts at Tesco and M&S will take them.

  • Matthew

    I lived in London for a year and have been back and forward a few times since. The only hassle I ever get is form shop assistants, who freak out because it looks different from 99% of the cash they handle.

    Literally every time it happens I just have to point to Sterling or they’ll call their manager over and they’ll take it. I’ve never been refused because of a Northern Irish note.

    It’s a little annoying, yes but totally understandable. I wouldn’t get worked up about it and see a little misunderstanding as a comment on Northern Ireland’s place in the union. It’s more a reflection of the fact that Northern Ireland plays little on the consciousness of the average English Person.

    As an interesting and slightly related point, I was on a flight going to London from Belfast recently. Traveling on the same flight as (what I assume was) a group of Loyalist Marching Band memebers, on some sort of lads holiday or stag do. It was a late flight and they were, understandably, a little worse for wear.

    When the air host pointed out that we were “Landing in London, which has the same local time as Belfast” on of their group got very irate, screaming “were part of the United Kingdom, of course it’s the same time” over and over again.

    The very first thing that I thought of was America and it’s four time zones. After that I spent a little while contemplating how insecure your identity must be when you can get so worked up by an English, EasyJet air host making an accurate(if a little pointless) Statement.

  • eireanne

    I have always disliked Ulster bank notes. I usually ask for bank of England notes in my change when paying in NI. I don’t always get them. Shops/pubs in london airports usually change Ulster bank notes for me – the manager of one restaurant there told me they had been instructed to accept/exchange ulster notes but not to put them into circulation. They just turn them over to their bank with the rest of the day’s takings.

  • Stravage

    Bingo. UK postage stamps are legal tender, well in the UK, check that out while paying a taxi or for a pint of Porter.

  • It’s quite straightforward that they don’t have to take them as they are not Bank of England notes. Of course nobody in NI will refuse a ‘regional’ note from England because the Bank of England is the body behind the whole currency. I work in London and live in NI so I just keep my various Irish notes until I go home. Nothing to get wound up about. Of course it would be simpler if the Bank of England stopped the Scots and Irish banks printing their own notes but where would be the fun in that?

  • tmitch57

    The last time I returned to the States from Belfast I had to eat the cost of the note as I couldn’t get any of the local banks to convert the bank notes into dollars or even into Bank of England sterling notes. I suppose they have a point…its not like banks in Hawaii or Alaska are allowed to issue their own special dollar bills.

  • Am Ghobsmacht

    I’ll remember that, I had to use a bureau de change at Paddington one time just to change a northern bank 20, still had to pay commission…

  • Brian O’Neill

    I have one of those new touch debit cards and I find I use that a lot more than cash now.

    Most shops will prefer if you pay by card as there is a lot of costs with handling cash (storing it securely, transporting to banks etc). That is why so many shops ads keen to give you cash back as they want rid of it.

  • Heather Richardson

    I travel to England nearly every week, and usually get a few Bank of England notes from the ATM at the airport just to be on the safe side. Having said that, when in England I’ll pay with whatever note comes to hand, adopting a ‘never apologise, never explain’ attitude with the cashier. Sometimes they’ll give my Norn Iron note a bit of a funny look, but they accept it without protest.

  • Heather Richardson

    Speaking of Easyjet’s pointless statements, why do the cabin crew pointlessly insert the word ‘do’ into their spiel? As in, ‘for sale today we DO have a range of fragrances…’ And on the Luton flight they offer train tickets to St Pancreas. Good old St Pancreas, patron saint of the innards.

  • Mike the First

    I’ve found that over the last few years it’s become a lot easier to use NI banknotes in England too – though that’s mainly London.
    I wonder is part of the reason because with the ROI joining the Euro, there’s much less chance of NI banknotes being mistaken for “Irish currency”?

  • Mike the First

    Ah, the dissenter, I’ve just made that point above (regarding the Euro), but you’re way ahead of me.

  • Ernekid

    How do you feel about Danske Bank, Bank of Ireland and First Trust notes? I like the weird variety of notes personally

  • Sir Rantsalot

    Isn’t this an issue of the past? Like from the 80s and maybe 90s. These days who hasn’t travelled around the UK and so is familiar with NI notes? Or at least heard if them or seen them in the touristy areas?

  • WindowLean

    I have to say i haven’t encountered this problem for more than 20 years.

  • Haven’t had this problem. It must be your naturally shifty look.:)
    My experience is that you only get this in England because they tend to be thicker. It says sterling on them. can’ t they read?The Scots know the score & don’t quibble.
    These notes are printed under licence from the Bank of England. The N Irish & Scottish banks buy them £1 for £1 from the bank of England.

    Next time it happens slip into broad Belfast & start pointing. That usually scares the shit out of them.

  • Ian James Parsley

    You can’t use them because they’re not legal tender.

    In England and Wales, only Bank of England notes are legal tender, as are coins in certain denominations.

    In Scotland and Northern Ireland, actually, nothing is.

    There is a distinction between legal tender (which must be accepted for “settlement of debts”) and legal currency (which may be accepted but does not have to be). Scottish and Northern Irish notes are the latter.

    Simples 🙂

  • Shirley McMillan

    #notallengland! lol. Seriously. They look at me like ‘wha?’ when I ask if my NI money is OK for them in Manchester. It’s *always* OK there.

  • whatif1984true

    Its a minor problem as a spare ulster£5 won’t buy much.
    I was on the bus from Belfast to Dublin Airport when an american got on in Newry and was most put out that the driver would not accept Dollars. Amusing insight to travellers abroad, I just hope we do not make as much fuss as the american on the bus did.

  • chrisjones2

    “a combination of xenophobia and ignorance?”

  • Sharpie

    I think they don’t all have sterling written on them. My approach was always to do brinkmanship – well its all I have so take it or leave it. They normally took it. men always seemed more suspicious.

  • barnshee

    Because they are not Legal tender

  • J Hobson

    I stick them in any machines you use for paying for shopping. The machines are all country blind.

  • Granni Trixie

    Are you sure that you are right in your assertion? Regional notes state that they are “STERLING” and therefore presumably legal tender hence I do not see the logic of NI notes being refused. I do resent that if we are “as British ad Finchley” our currency is not accepted.

  • Caz

    I’m English but spend most of my time in Belfast.
    I take Ni notes back to England with me deliberately because I like the argument 🙂
    The best one was paying for a meal when they said they don’t take them.
    I asked them if they had a bucket where I could return what I had just eaten. Surprisingly they took them then…

  • Mac an Aistrigh

    Was pleasantly surprised a couple of weeks ago to have an Ulster Bank £20 note accepted by an Eastern European barman at Heathrow Airport.

    Amused at the same time that said barman was unable to explain to an American breakfaster what a ‘rasher’ was!

  • Paddy Reilly

    I was behind two women from Belfast trying to pass a NI note in McDonald’s at Piccadilly Circus. They got nowhere. The average shop assistant in London arrived from Nigeria two years ago and has never heard of Northern Ireland. Amazing really, just 2 decades ago everyone in London was cursing them. (Northern Irish people, not their banknotes).

    The trick is, I told them, to find the right person to take them. There was a time when I was frequently travelling through England, Scotland, NI, and the Republic. I had four pockets in my jacket to keep my banknotes in. But I had my English lunch in a café owned by a Scotsman, and he was always happy to take a Scots, or NI note, which allowed me to reduce the burden of otherwise unusable notes.

  • Catcher in the Rye

    FYI – regional notes are not legal tender. In Northern Ireland, only coins are legal tender – even Bank of England notes are not legal tender here. Strange but true.

    Of course we accept notes because we have faith that they will be honoured.

    “legal tender” merely means that you cannot refuse the note in settlement of a debt. These days it is of very limited significance.

  • Catcher in the Rye

    This Act was only enforced in England and Wales so Scottish and Irish banks continued to produce their own banknotes.

    Nitpick – it is not a question of the Act not being enforced; it is a question of the Act simply not applying outside of England and Wales, and this is still the case now.

    The reason why the system is retained, and why the local banks go to the additional expense of having the notes printed and circulated, is because the notes only have to be backed up by an equivalent cash lodgement with the Bank of England for part of each week. For the other part of the week, the local banks can loan out the cash for interest.

    This practice would all stop of the Chancellor were to simply insist that all clearing banks issuing their own notes had to lodge equivalent cash with the Bank of England for 7 days each week. This would make it uneconomical to issue the notes, and soon we’d all be spending BoE notes.

  • Catcher in the Rye

    Bank of England notes can be refused in Northern Ireland where they are not legal tender.

  • Catcher in the Rye

    I don’t believe this is true.

  • Catcher in the Rye

    I don’t think David is taking it personally. His point is that the fact that so many people in the UK are unaware that Northern Ireland is a part of the same country and has the same currency suggests that the union is weaker than some people would have us all believe.

  • Mr Angry

    Good to know! Cheers!

  • Mr Angry

    Pretty sure coins are legal tender in NI.

  • Mr Angry

    “running about to get to an ATM that dispenses Bank of England notes”

    Running about? When both airports’ cash machines dispense BoE notes? Seems unnecessary.

  • Very much the only answer here backed up by any source; Clearly states that NI & Scottish banknotes are legal currency and can be accepted UK wide as of the Banking Act (2009).

    Having said that I was able to get Sainsbury in Newbury to accept a Northern Bank plastic fiver in 2005 with little bother.

  • They’re not right in their assertion that it’s due to the issuing bank – see http://www.acbi.org.uk/media/sni_notes_factsheet_nov12_copy1.pdf. The fact they’re not Bank of England notes is irrelevant.

  • Exactly; But legal tender is irrelevant in regards to doing your shopping at Tesco since you’re not settling a debt.

  • Granni Trixie

    But NI Is a STERLING area! All over GB. So completely different value to the dollar

  • whatif1984true

    Another aspect are the online sellers who can’t deal with you because you are not in the UK or because their parcel delivery company doesn’t do NI or the Highlands. When i suggest Royal mail does and its cheaper there is a virtual shrug of the shoulders.