Real pound coin
Their warning came as new figures indicated there were £41 million fake £1 coins in Britain – one in every 36 in circulation. This is a record level and suggests that the proportion of counterfeit coins had tripled in the last decade.
The situation has worsened since last year, when one in 40 £1 coins were fake. Experts and MPs said the level of fakes were so high there was now a serious risk that consumer confidence in Britain’s most popular coin was becoming compromised.
Fake pound coin
The figures were published in a Parliamentary answer supplied by Justine Greening, the Economic Secretary to the Treasury, to Andrew Rosindell, a Conservative MP.
Mr Rossindell said the number of counterfeits was “a genuine matter for concern”.
“This has a huge effect on confidence in our currency. Clearly the one pound coin is something the Royal Mint needs to reconsider. Even one in a hundred fake coins is too many. The effect on consumers has to be a major consideration. if you take it to the shop that gives it to you they may replace it on trust, but they don’t have to. A lot of people have lost out because of this. I hope that the Government will look at it more deeply.”
The biggest losers are small shopkeepers who are not refunded by banks if they send fake coins from their tills.
Robert Matthews, the former Queen’s Assay Master at the Royal Mint, the most senior coin tester in the country, said: “If the number of fakes keeps increasing at this rate, there will have to come a point when the Treasury makes the decision whether to remint or not.”
Scrapping the £1 coin would be very expensive for the Government as well as major upheaval for consumers. However, other countries have been forced to take similar action when counterfeits became too prevalent. The 5 rand coin in 2004 was reissued after taxi-drivers and shopkeepers in South Africa started to refuse to accept them. Fakes were just 2 per cent of all coins, compared with 2.81 per cent with the British £1.
Experts said it was becoming increasingly difficult for shoppers in Britain to spot a fake. The only time they usually notice is when they are rejected by a parking meter or vending machine, which contain devices to monitor whether the metal composition of the coins is correct. However, at least half the fakes are now so good they pass these tests.
Jonathan Hilder, the chief executive of the Automatic Vending Association of Britain, representing snack and drinks machines which take £1.6 billion of coins every years, said: “Ironically, the fakes are so good that it isn’t yet causing a problem for consumers. Because they don’t usually spot them, the trust in the coin is still high.
“But if fakes continue to rise, reminting will have to become an option.”
A Treasury spokesman said: “Any level of counterfeiting is a matter of concern and the Government takes it extremely seriously. Maintaining confidence in our currency is of paramount importance and we continue to keep our actions in response to counterfeiting under constant review.”