Thursday, 20 March 2008

WRONG: Scottish banknotes are legal tender

The following banks issue notes in the British Isles (not counting the Channel Islands and the Isle Of Man):

• Bank Of England
• Bank Of Scotland
• Royal Bank Of Scotland
• Clydesdale Bank
• Bank Of Ireland
• First Trust Bank
• Northern Bank
• Ulster Bank

It’s a source of endless frustration to Scottish and Northern Irish people travelling in England that shopkeepers will often inspect their perfectly valid non-Bank Of England notes and reject them as funny money. Yet the shopkeepers have a point, albeit a misguided one, because the notes aren’t legal tender anywhere, even in Scotland and Northern Ireland.

The confusion arises from a misunderstanding of the term "legal tender". It means, very specifically, payment that may not be legally refused in the settlement of a debt. In restaurants and taxis (for example) where a service has been provided in advance of payment – therefore incurring a debt – the restaurateur or driver must accept legal tender. In England and Wales, that's Bank Of England notes, but in Scotland and Northern Ireland only coins are legal tender.

So where does this leave the Scottish and Northern Irish tenner if they’re not even legal tender at home? The good news is that currency can be anything you and a shopkeeper (or other service provider) agree on. If Mr Bun the baker takes a fancy to your Peruvian 10 Nuevo Soles note (and who wouldn’t, with that fetching portrait of aviator José Quiñones Gonzáles on the front?) then he can take it in exchange for that cream horn you have your eye on. It’s between you and him, and the law doesn’t come into it. Similarly, Scottish and Northern Irish banknotes are quite rightly accepted by most businesses in England as currency.

For the record, David Brent was wrong: stamps are not legal tender.

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