£50 billion banknotes in UK circulation are currently unaccounted for

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A public spending watchdog has stated that around £50 billion worth of banknotes in UK circulation are currently unaccounted for.

What does this mean though?

Well, in simple terms, this means that there’s a heck of a lot of money out there and no one actually knows where it is.

It could be in the pockets of a pair of jeans not warn in a while, at the bottom of a handbag, stashed down the side of the sofa, or even placed into overseas holdings, but it for sure isn’t being spent in shops or kept in savings accounts.

The National Audit Office (NAO) – the watchdog that made the claim – said that little is known about the massive amount of cash and there’s even suggestions that it might be being held for use in the “shadow economy”, which includes, but is not completely limited to, money that comes from illegal endeavours.

At present, there is little reliable information to quantify how much is likely to be held where.

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Five public bodies – the Treasury, the Bank of England, the Royal Mint, the Financial Conduct Authority (FCA) and the Payments Systems Regulator (PSR) – play a role in administering or overseeing the cash system.

The NAO said that a “fragmented” approach is being taken by these bodies and a co-ordinated effort is needed.

Gareth Davies – the head of the NAO – explained to The Metro that: “As society progresses towards the wide use of digital payments, the use of cash in transactions is dwindling.

“It may become harder for people to access cash when they need it and those without the means to pay digitally will struggle if cash is not accepted.”

He continued: “HM Treasury now works more closely with the public bodies in the cash system to achieve the Government’s goal of safeguarding access to cash, however the approach is fragmented, and it is not clear that the action being taken will keep up with the pace of change.”

Bank of England

It comes after it was announced last week that the Royal Mint has no plans to produce new 2p or £2 coins for at least 10 years, with the NAO saying it could take at least a decade for current stocks of the coins to run out.

Coin production shrank by 65% in the last decade to 383 million UK coins a year in 2019-20, from around 1.1 billion in 2010-11.

The NAO also said that it is likely the coronavirus (COVID-19) pandemic has potentially accelerated the decline.

Industry data suggests market demand for notes and coins from cash centres plunged by 71% between early March and mid-April, however cash use appears to have been recovering more recently as businesses have re-opened.

The NAO said older people and those on low incomes are particularly likely to rely on cash.