THE process to replace millions of £20 bank notes has begun as the first of Bank of England's new plastic notes enter circulation.

Today, new polymer £20 notes have been distributed to cash machines and banks across the country following on from the introduction of the plastic £5 and £10 note in 2016.

The new note, which has tactile markings and three separate clusters of dots along its edge, remains purple in colour and is noticeably larger than current polymer notes.

They are also set to improve cash-handling for those who are blind or partially-sighted, as the tactile markings make distinguishing the notes easier than before.

When will paper £20 notes be withdrawn?

You've still got time to spend your old paper notes, as Bank of England confirms the paper £20 note will not be withdrawn just yet.

Once the withdrawal date is announced, you will have six months to spend or exchange all of your £20 notes at your local bank.

If you miss the deadline to exchange and still have paper £20 notes, the majority of banks and The Post Office in England should still accept your withdrawn notes.

The Northern Echo: The new polymer £20 note Picture: THE BANK OF ENGLANDThe new polymer £20 note Picture: THE BANK OF ENGLAND

How long are they supposed to last?

They are also expected to last almost three years longer than current paper £20 notes, which have an average lifespan of two years.

But earlier this year, Bank of England recalled almost 50 million polymer £5 and £10 bank notes after users complained about premature damage.

At the time, Press Association reported that around 20m plastic £5 and around 26m £10 notes across the UK had to be swapped for stronger and more durable notes.

Will ticket machines and shops accept them straightaway?

All retailers should accept the new £20 note as they officially legal tender - but some businesses which rely on automated machines may have to upgrade their systems and hardware to support the new note.

In Tyne and Wear, Nexus has already upgraded its network of 184 ticket machines on the Tyne and Wear Metro meaning customers will be able to pay with the new plastic note.

The Northern Echo:

Are there plans to replace the paper £50? 

Described as the most secure Bank of England note yet, the £20 note includes two see-through windows and two colour foil which it says makes it very difficult to counterfeit.

It said, the same technology will be in place when plastic £50 notes are issued next year.

The Northern Echo: The new polymer £20 note Picture: THE BANK OF ENGLANDThe new polymer £20 note Picture: THE BANK OF ENGLAND

Welcoming the launch, The Royal National Institue of Blind People (RNIB) said it had been working with The Bank of England for the past few years to make money accessible for those with sight loss.

David Clarke, RNIB Director of Services, said: “We are delighted to have worked with the Bank of England once more on the redesign of the new £20 banknote with accessibility in mind.

“Handling cash can often be a challenge if you're blind or partially sighted, because it can be difficult to tell the difference between the different notes and coins.

"We hope the creation of these notes will help enable people with sight loss to use money more easily and with confidence.

“By incorporating tactile features on money, we are closer to creating a more inclusive society; it’s the small changes that can make a big difference to independent living.”