£50 notes will not be scrapped but instead get a polymer redesign in a bid to make them more durable and harder to forge.
The announcement by the Bank of England follows growing calls to withdraw the note altogether over fears that the UK’s largest denomination was widely used by criminals and rarely for ordinary purchases.
In March, a review by the Treasury found the roughly 330 million £50 notes in circulation, with a combined total of £16.5bn, were “rarely used” for routine transactions.
The Treasury concluded that “there is also a perception among some that £50 notes are used for money laundering, hidden economy activity, and tax evasion”.
Peter Sands, former chief executive of Standard Chartered bank, said in a 2016 report that high-denomination notes are favoured by terrorists, drug lords and tax evaders.
Illegal money flows exceed $2 trillion (£1.4 trillion) a year, Sands said. But rather than focus on the criminals, he argued G20 countries should now target the cash itself, urging central banks to stop issuing £50, $100 and €500 notes.
However, Robert Jenrick, exchequer secretary to the Treasury, has resisted a similar move
“People should have as much choice as possible when it comes to their money and we’re making sure that cash is here to stay. Our money needs to be secure and this new note will help prevent crime” he said.
The decision to switch to polymer plastic notes will, however, “also raise questions over which famous Briton will feature on the reverse of the note”, says the BBC.
Steam engine pioneers James Watt and Matthew Boulton appear on the current £50, issued in 2011.