Are stamps legal tender?

Covered mag, presented by Gocompare.com
  • | by Kristian Dando

The consumer's right to pay for goods using postage stamps instead of currency is a classic piece of British pub table trivia.

It’s also something of a grey area legally, to the extent that even the Royal  Mail is unsure as to the proper procedure. “We’re inclined to say no, they’re not legal tender” said Royal Mail spokesperson. “Historically, they may have been used to pay for things. But it really is up to the shop in question whether they will accept stamps!”

Determined to put this mystery to bed once and for all, Covered headed to Cardiff to ask retailers whether or not they were happy to accept postage stamps as way of payment.

The first port of call was the St David’s centre, the city’s shiny retail hub, where most shops are part of large national or international chains.

Responses were, on the whole, negative. “Absolutely not,” was the reply at watch seller Swatch, while Clinton Cards – a shop which sells stamps – had to double check.

“No,” was the response, after the manager was consulted. “We just accept cash and credit cards!”

Over in the Lego store, the response was “pretty much certain we don’t,” while electronic goods retailer Currys gave us a definitive ”no.”

Meanwhile, at the Apple Store – where you’d need several hundred books of first class stamps to buy a MacBook or similar - an attendant conceded that he’d heard of the practice, but the shop didn’t accept payment with stamps.

An attendant at fashion retailer H&M – a shop which you could conceivably pick up some inexpensive accessories with a few spare stamps – also claimed to be familiar with the custom of accepting stamps for payment, but was certain that the Swedish-owned chain didn’t accept them.

The last of the larger retailers we paid a visit to was John Lewis. The retailer’s cooperative ownership model suggests that it might do things a little differently. Would they accept stamps as form of payment?

Sadly not.“We’ve never heard of that,” was the attendant’s response. “But no, we definitely don’t accept stamps.”

So, thoroughly let down by the high street giants’ reluctance to take stamps as payment, we headed to Cardiff’s Victorian arcades, home to an abundance of small, independent shops, perhaps the most famous being Spillers Records, which stakes a claim to be the oldest trading record shop in the world. “Well, in the twenty years I’ve worked here I’ve never had anybody try before,” said the assistant, who claims to have had “been asked plenty of dafter questions than this before.”

In fact, this was the pattern which would be repeated throughout the smaller shops. The closest we got to a shop which might consider accepting stamps was Capital Bookshop.

“Well, I might accept them if I really needed some stamps,” said the shopkeeper, after careful consideration. “Maybe if I had to post a lot of things, which I sometimes do. But generally, no I wouldn’t accept stamps as a form of payment.”

THE VERDICT

While the law might be uncertain as to whether consumers can or can’t pay with stamps, it’s certainly not recommended. You can try, but in all likelihood you’ll probably be laughed out of the shop...much like we were here.