Old £5 notes and missing information

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The old £5 notes in the UK cease to be legal tender on the 5th of May

There is nearly £165 million old £5 notes in circulation, or hiding in piggy banks. But as of midnight on Friday the 5th of May 2017, you won’t be able to buy anything with them. So what happens if you have a stash of old money? The clock is ticking to spend them in shops or restaurants. And what happens if you get one in your change today? It turns out that your bank is not legally obliged to exchange them. However, the Bank of England notes never lose their face value and they will exchange them. So if you find an old £5 note down the sofa next week, you can always get your money back.

Information about the old notes going out of circulation can be found on tv, online and in newspapers. But what happens if your first language isn’t English?

A tale of missed information

Back in 1997, as a new assistant social worker, I was working with an older British Sign Language user. He was a dapper chap, and in his late 80’s. And had asked me, because we did that sort of thing then, to support him to access his local shop. He wanted to buy a new blazer. Marks and Spencer’s was the choice of the day. So before setting off I asked him if he had enough money for the outing.

He taps his jacket pocket and signs “plenty”, with a big smile on his face. So we headed off. Using me to facilitate communication, he was able to ask the shop assistant a variety of questions about the cut, cloth, make of the blazer. And he found one that he liked so decided to buy it. The cashier ran the item through the till. At which point Dapper Chap pulls out a wad of old money. A range of £1, £5, £10 and £20 notes.

Old money!

Now, the notes he had with him went out of circulation between 1988 and 1994. Here we were many years later. The shop assistant looked at him, them and me. “I can’t take those”. Dapper Chap was crestfallen. So to try and rectify the situation we marched, well walked quite slowly, to Dapper Chap’s bank. Who, with a bit more communication support, were able to understand the problem.

Why the problem had happened was due to a lack of access to information. BSL has a different grammar, so newspapers were not accessible as he didn’t understand English grammar. There were no signed news programmes available to him. Subtitles on the news were too quick and too complicated for him to understand.

The wallet of expired notes were exchanged. And Dapper Chap went off to buy the blazer.

The suitcase

We returned home and I went over the information that had been given; jokingly I said “no more old money?”. His face cracked into the broadest grin and he walked me to his wardrobe. From the depths of the cupboard he pulled out a suitcase. And he opened the suitcase. “Plenty” he signed.

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