Your guide to barcoded stamps


06 April 2022
Royal Mail's announcement that it is adding unique barcodes to all its definitive stamps, with non-barcoded stamps to be phased out by 2023, is one of the biggest changes to British stamps in years. Find out more about the plans - and the reaction to them – in our special guide.

When were barcoded stamps introduced?

Royal Mail introduced barcoded stamps – actually the digital code on the designs is more like a QR code – on 1 February 2022. The move was said to be part of the company’s ‘extensive and ongoing modernisation drive.'

The main points from the announcement were:

  • The move will be permanent for ‘every day’ (definitive) stamps
  • The barcodes sit alongside the main body of the stamp, separated by a simulated perforation line
  • Each stamp contains a special video, which the recipient of the stamped item can watch using the Royal Mail App
  • The unique barcodes will allow for 'further services and innovations' to be announced
  • Non-barcoded definitive stamps will be phased out but will remain usable until 31 January 2023

That final point was met with concern and uncertainty from both collectors and the trade, with the news bringing more questions than answers.

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Which stamps will be phased out?

Non-barcoded definitive stamps will remain valid until 31 January 2023, so Royal Mail are encouraging the public to use these stamps up before this date.

Initially Royal Mail included non-barcoded Christmas stamps in the list of stamps that would become redundant, however, they then changed this rule. Non-barcoded Christmas stamps and other special stamps with pictures on will remain valid for postage.

  • Does the stamp just show a profile of the Queen and a value?
    • If so, this stamp will remain valid until 31 January 2023
  •   Does the stamp show a photograph or more complex design?
    • If so, this is a 'special stamp' or commemorative, and will remain valid for postage

Non-barcoded stamps can be exchanged for the new barcoded version through a ‘Swap Out’ scheme. 

How does the swap-out scheme work?

Customers can complete a standard Swap Out form for stamps worth up to the value of £200.

There are three ways customers can obtain a Swap Out form and a freepost envelope:

  • Via the Royal Mail website at where customers can download a form. Customers who do not have access to a printer can instead complete a web form and request a form be posted to them.
  • By contacting Royal Mail’s Customer Experience team by telephone on 03457 740740 and requesting a form be posted to them.
  • By visiting one of more than 1,200 local delivery office Customer Service Points, where they can pick up a form in person.

For consignments under £200, gummed stamps (ie not self-adhesive) must be stuck to the form. Self-adhesive stamps should remain affixed to their original backing paper.

Read more about the swap-out scheme here.

What do collectors and stamp dealers think of the scheme?

Many collectors and dealers are unhappy with the plans to replace stamps that have been issued for decades. The main concerns include:

  • Which stamps are eligible for the swap-out scheme, especially stamps in booklets or stamp sheets
  • Security concerns about having to send in their definitive stamps, up to £200 in value, by post
  • How the stamps sent in are recorded and verified
  • What dealers will do with hundreds, or even thousands, of the new barcoded stamps 
  • Read more about the initial reaction to the scheme here

What do you think?

We’d love to know what you think about Royal Mail’s plans.

Will you be swapping any of your stamps for the new versions or keeping them safe in your album?
Do you like the barcoded stamps and will you be collecting them too?

Let us know your thoughts, and if you have any questions you’d like us to put to Royal Mail.

More about barcoded stamps

100 days left to swap non-barcoded stamps

Royal Mail is advising customers to check their wallets and drawers to find and use their non-barcoded Definitive stamps before they become invalid on 31 January 2023, in 100 days' time.

‘Stop the stamp swap’ campaign launched

The Mail on Sunday newspaper has launched a campaign to give people more time to use up their non-barcoded stamps, stating that Royal Mail’s scheme asking people to send in their stamps in exchange for the new barcoded definitives is ‘a time-consuming and laborious process.’

Stamp trade reacts to barcoded stamp plans

The world of philately is reacting to the news that all British definitive stamps will feature barcodes (actually data matrix codes) and existing definitives will soon lose postal validity.