in the know

When most people never see a £50 note, why have it?

When was the last time you saw a £50 note? Dinner with a wealthy relative visiting the UK, or tucked into a child’s birthday card perhaps?

While we may rarely see such currency, there are a surprising number in general circulation.

According to the Bank of England’s latest statistics, a total of 344 million of them, with a combined value of £17.2bn, are in the system.

While this makes them the least used notes in transactions, it means they are only slightly less common than £5 notes. There are 396 million £5 notes in circulation.

Those who use cash machines will know that neither note pops out of the slot with regularity.

Both the fiver and the £50 are hoarded, but by whom, and why has the Bank of England just announced plans to give the latter a makeover?

High-value notes were once described by a former bank executive as the “currency of corrupt elites, of crime of all sorts and of tax evasion”.

Peter Sands, former chief executive of Standard Chartered bank, produced a report for the Harvard Kennedy School in early 2016 urging the world’s largest economies to do something about it.

“They play little role in the functioning of the legitimate economy, yet a crucial role in the underground economy,” he said. “The irony is that they are provided to criminals by the state.”

Banning the notes would not stop crime, but it would make hiding transactions more costly and more difficult, Mr Sands said.