How and why UK stamps are changing

31 July is the last day non-barcoded stamps can be used to post items, although the Royal Mail exchange scheme is still open

A sheet of stamps
Royal Mail is moving to a new system of barcodes
(Image credit: Matt Cardy/Getty Images)

Today is the last day standard non-barcoded stamps can be used to post items in the UK.

From Tuesday, letters posted without barcodes will be treated as having “insufficient postage”, meaning recipients will be forced to pay £1.10 to collect them.

The move to barcoded stamps began in February last year in “an attempt to make deliveries more efficient and improve security”, said the BBC. At the same time, Royal Mail has sought to change all the stamps in circulation following the death of the Queen, with a profile image of the new monarch, King Charles III, being used.

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Why is this happening?

Royal Mail has been moving to a new system of barcodes, which old stamps do not feature. The company says the new unique barcodes will “help make operations smoother” and enable the introduction of “added security features”, said ITV News. Customers will also be allowed to watch and share videos by scanning the barcoded stamps in the Royal Mail app.

Non-barcoded stamps were originally due to expire at the end of January, “but the scheme was extended by six months after people said they needed more time”, reported Sky News.

Commemorative and non-barcoded Christmas stamps will still be valid beyond the 31 July deadline.

However, the “change will come as a shock to the many stamp-hoarders out there”, said Martin Lewis, founder of

How do I trade in my non-barcoded stamps?

Fortunately, people can swap their old stamps for barcoded ones through Royal Mail’s “Stamp Swap Out” scheme, where there is no deadline for exchange.

Those stamps eligible for swapping are regular first- and second-class “everyday” stamps, featuring the profile of the late Queen.

You can send back up to £200 worth of unused, non-barcoded stamps to be swapped using Freepost, but if you intend to swap stamps worth more than £200, you are advised to return them to Royal Mail using a secure postage service.

What will happen if I try to use old stamps after the deadline?

If you use the old stamps after their expiry date, they will be treated as “insufficient postage”, much the same as if you forgot to put a stamp on the item. The recipient will have to pay an extra fee or the item will be returned to the sender.

When did stamps start featuring King Charles?

It took around six months from the death of the Queen last September for the first stamps featuring King Charles to begin entering circulation. Gradually introduced at first, these have since become more commonplace.

However, said The Guardian, post boxes bearing Queen Elizabeth’s royal cypher, ER, are “unlikely to be removed” as “some with King George VI’s GR cypher remain in use today, 70 years on”.

Will new stamps cost more?

The Telegraph reported Royal Mail came “under fire” in April 2023 after introducing inflation-busting price rises of 16%, which saw the cost of a second-class stamp rise to 75p and first-class jump from 95p to £1.10.

However, in June it was announced that the price of a second-class stamp would be capped in line with inflation “amid fears that costs are rising more than necessary”, said The Telegraph.

Regulator Ofcom will roll out a ceiling on the price of sending letters by second-class post under new proposals, ensuring the average cost will not rise above inflation each year until at least 2029.

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