For the first time in almost half a century the Treasury has ordered the Royal Mint to stop producing any 1p or 2p coins.
The crackdown on coppers comes at a time when all our cash is under threat – with banks preferring that we pay for goods online or with cards because it saves them money.
The Mail on Sunday sent reporter Toby Walne out on to Kensington High Street in West London weighed down with £50 of coins to see if they are willing to manage the simple task of taking his money.
Reporter Toby Walne went out on to Kensington High Street in West London weighed down with £50 of coins to see if they are willing to manage the simple task of taking his money
…and one bank even handed me a mixture of foreign coins
Toby was given one Chinese yuan, two Indian rupees, an American dime and an assortment of euro cent pieces
The experiment began with a trip to HSBC in Notting Hill, West London, where I handed over £50 in notes and an assistant bagged up £50 worth of coins – supposedly £10 each of 1p, 2p, 5p, 10p and 50p pieces.
By the end, I realised that not all the coins I was given were as they seemed.
At the one bank that DID accept my loose change I studied the coins rejected by its machine and found one Chinese yuan, two Indian rupees, an American dime and an assortment of euro cent pieces.
Incredibly, the weighing machine used at the outset could not discern them from sterling.
HSBC: Clear off to another branch
I am forced to hobble upstairs carrying a near 10kg jar of coins to get to the manned counter. The ground floor is reserved for seven ‘express banking’ machines that seem to do everything but take coins.
The cashier, Amun, shakes her head at my audacity. ‘Sorry. It has to be bagged.’ I am bemused.
What on earth does she mean – what is wrong with handing money over in a jar rather than bag?
But she is referring to small clear plastic bags used by all banks designed specifically for holding different types of coin – which I must sort through myself.
She smiles at my confusion. ‘It would be quicker if you head off to our Oxford Street branch.
It has a machine that takes customer coins for free.’
Not quite what I wanted to hear.
She has politely told me to clear off to another branch – three miles away and at least 20 minutes using London Underground.
LLOYDS: Get kids to count your coins
As I walk in I am transfixed by a strange bank advertisement poster on the wall that announces, ‘Sorry. I love You. The M-Word.’
M is for money, I discover, before bank worker Danella creeps up from behind and makes me jump by telling me the bank won’t accept mine – before I even ask.
‘Sorry. We do not take change unless bagged.’ She eyes up the jar bulging with coppers and the odd glint of silver. ‘I tell you what – let me find some bags to help you. We take a maximum of ten full bags every day. If you have children they might find the counting fun – turn it into a game.’
She hands over 30 small clear plastic bags that clearly show what I can fill them with. For example, £1 in 2p or 1p coins.
SANTANDER: Try down the road
Three of the six counters are open – and I can tell by the way they nervously look at me wielding a jar of coins that none of them wants to serve me.
Raj draws the short straw. ‘You have one of two choices. I give you bags to sort out the money or you can go a few doors down the road to a Metro bank where they cash it for free. Sadly we do not offer this service.’
It is not the amount of money that is the problem but the fact it is all mixed up. Had I come in with just a fiver’s worth of coins they would still not have helped out unless each denomination had been put into its own bag.
NATIONWIDE: Count it in our office
THE machine in the foyer takes cash but an attached sign says it will not accept paper clips, staples, elastic bands – and coins. I am intercepted by Rachel who takes pity on me struggling under the weight of 1,820 copper and silver coins. She offers only a light-hearted laugh when I suggest she helps me count them up – but instead hands over a wad of 150 small plastic bags for me to fill up. ‘It could take a while but you are more than welcome to count it and bag it up in our back office.’
A counting machine could accomplish the task in a few seconds – this could take hours.
Metro Bank’s Bhavin presents our reporter with two crisp £20 notes, a fiver and four pound coins. Service at last
NATWEST: Do not use our machine
The swanky interior looks like a hotel reception area with its purple soft furnishings except that installed on the wall is a box the size of a photocopier with a hand- taped printed message saying, ‘This machine is for NatWest customers only.’
At last I have found somewhere that takes small change – but sadly not mine.
Frustratingly for me, a couple of its customers use the machine as I queue and it sounds like someone has won the jackpot on a Las Vegas one-armed bandit.
But at the counter Julie is adamant that I cannot use it. As I am not a customer, the bank will not allow me a spin on the fruit machine.
‘You get a voucher from the machine and we then transfer the money directly into your bank account – but only if you bank with us.’
POST OFFICE: WILL only weigh coins
A local post office is often the bank of last resort when branches shut down – so perhaps this will be my saviour. Assistant Sudhir allows me to weigh my pot of coins for free on the parcel scales – 9.6kg – while he goes round the back in search of coin bags. The branch will not let me put money in any account unless I put coins in the bags.
CLYDESDALE: Take a stroll next door
The ultra-modern frontage is full of light bulbs, mirrors and pictures of fairy cakes. There is a message on the wall – ‘Are you financially fit?’ Lifting this bulk of coins is certainly giving me a work-out.
But there is no hope of me shifting my collection here. Its ‘Studio B’ branch is owned by Virgin Money and without any embarrassment boasts it is ‘where new ideas are born’.
Bruno, a sharply dressed bank assistant, steps up to pass on his wisdom. ‘Across the road next door the Metro bank will be able to help.’
METRO: He’s right…success at last
There is a warm handshake from assistant Reuben as he spots me flaked out on a chair by a ‘Magic Money Machine’. I am exhausted after lugging my pile of cash up and down the street all afternoon.
I explain apologetically that I am not a customer. But thankfully he does not mind and points to the free coin machine. ‘We want to help all customers with a service they want – even if they bank elsewhere.’
Declining the offer of help I pour in my full jar. It takes a couple of minutes for all the coins to fall through the drain on the top of the machine. A computer screen reveals a total of £49.43 – it turns out my ‘£50’ from HSBC includes a handful of rejected foreign coins.
The machine’s display screen asks if I want to donate the 43p to a charity supporting teenagers with cancer – and it seems churlish to decline. A slip pops out which I hand over at the counter, where Bhavin presents me with two crisp £20 notes, a fiver and four pound coins. Service at last.
Another way to ring the changes
Another option for your coin mountain is to feed it into a fee-charging machine at a supermarket.
This converts your coins into a voucher to be exchanged for cash at the check-out. These machines charge a ‘coin processing fee’ of typically 10.9 per cent – costing you £1.09 for every £10.
Natalie Ceeney, author of the Access To Cash Review published earlier this year, cannot understand why banks are not routinely providing this service for free, especially as the technology is readily available.
A former boss of the Financial Ombudsman Service, Ceeney says: ‘Coins are a vital part of budgeting for us all.’
Banks can refuse but shops must take coins
Banks are entitled to turn you away with your jam jar of cash.
But you can ask in advance for a few clear plastic money bags that should be handed over for free.
In each bag you can collect £1 in coppers – either 1p or 2p but not a mixture; £5 in 5p or 10p coins; and £10 in 20p or 50p pieces. For £1 and £2 coins the maximum in a bag can total up to £20.
Bank clerks do not count the coins one by one but simply put the bags on a set of scales.
Banks usually only accept your sorted bags if you are a customer.
The British Coinage Act 1971 says shops must accept a certain amount of change. You can pay for anything up to the value of 20p using just copper 1p or 2p coins.
You can purchase items up to the value of £5 with 5p or 10p pieces.
You can make a purchase of up to £10 with 20p and 50p coins, while for £1 and £2 coins, there is no limit.