Since its introduction in 2013 there has been some confusion as to whether or not the UK’s first ever £20 coin is actually legal tender, leading to questions very much like those raised about the £5 coin when that was first introduced in 1990.
The simple answer is: “Yes, it is!”. However, we thought we would give you a bit more detail than that.
Legal tender has a very specific meaning, in that it defines what can be used as a means to settle debts. If a debtor attempts to pay in court using ‘legal tender’ they cannot successfully be sued for non-payment.
UK coins are regulated by the Coinage Act of 1971. Among many other things, the Act defines the legal tender status of coins as:
Coins of cupro-nickel, silver or bronze shall be legal tender as follows —
(a) coins of cupro-nickel or silver of denominations of more than 10 pence, for payment of any amount not exceeding £10;
(b) coins of cupro-nickel or silver of denominations of not more than 10 pence, for payment of any amount not exceeding £5;
(c) coins of bronze, for payment of any amount not exceeding 20 pence.
So, for example, under the rules of legal tender shops are not required to accept more than 20 pence in 1p or 2p coins – although most will. You can read more on what is and isn’t acceptable under the legal definition of legal tender on our website.
As you can see, there is no mention of the £20 or £5 coin and that is because the Act dates to 1971, when neither coin had been introduced.
So, in order for the £20 coin, and other new coin denominations, to be legal tender the Queen, on the advice of her Privy Council, issued a Royal Proclamation under the Act.
(1B) Other coins, if made current by a proclamation under section 3 of this Act, shall be legal tender in accordance with the provision made by that proclamation or by any later proclamation made under that section.
Thanks to the proclamation the £20 coin, like the £5 coin, and all other United Kingdom coins of the realm, IS legal tender.
However, while it is indeed legal tender, it has not been designed to be used as a circulating coin. This means that while you would be OK to use it in the settlement of a debt in court, for instance, your local shop or bank probably won’t accept it in trade for goods, as the mechanics and systems are not in place to enable that. The highest denomination coin in general circulation today remains the £2 coin, first introduced in 1998.
The £20 coin has been created with the intention of being a commemorative coin, produced in limited editions and sold at face value (£20) to be bought and kept by collectors or someone looking for an affordable, sterling silver memory of a key personal event or occasion.
And this first issue is proving to be hugely popular in that respect, as we are fast approaching sell out with less than 2,000 left as we go to press with this blog post!
So, is it legal tender? Yes.
Is it designed for everyday use in general circulation? No.
Is it designed as a collectible, face-value commemorative coin? Yes.
Can I still get one? As of 9th April 2014, yes! But only from our website, and only if you are VERY quick!
[Update 8 July 2014] The second £20 coin commemorating the Outbreak of the First World War is now available via The Royal Mint website for only £20.