When do stamps expire? Plus, how to swap out old stamps

The Royal Mail has set an expiry date for stamps without barcodes

A pile of old first and second class stamps that are due to expire
(Image credit: Alamy)

As the deadline draws closer, many are asking when do stamps expire?

It's all change at Royal Mail, as in recent months the service has upped the price of first class stamps (opens in new tab)  and then gone on to issue a further warning (opens in new tab) back in May that the price could rise again, as part of an effort to combat the post-pandemic decrease in deliveries as well as rising running and staffing costs.

Of course, there's the Royal Mail strike (opens in new tab) to battle with too, and now the postal service is planning to swap out its stamps. As a way of modernising the company, Royal Mail are adding barcodes to stamps and, as a result, old stamps without barcodes will no longer be valid. The decision has left many wondering when do stamps expire and how can you swap out old stamps?

When do stamps expire?

Regular stamps without a barcode will no longer be valid after 31 July 2023. This is an extension of the previous deadline of 31 January that was announced earlier this year, after Royal Mail recognised customers needed more time to use up the old stamps.

All regular first and second-class ‘everyday’ stamps will be going out of date, as well as first-class large letter and second-class large letter stamps. International tariff stamps and all ‘make-up-value stamps’ will also be going out of date. 

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The new barcoded stamps are already in circulation, after being introduced on 1 February 2022, but after the expiry date they will be the only stamps that can be used. 

They look largely the same to the non-barcoded stamps and will feature the Queen's profile,  but the colours will be changed so that first-class stamps will become purple, second-class stamps will be green, large first-class stamps will be blue, and large second-class stamps will be dark blue/teal. The barcodes match the stamp colour and are positioned alongside the Queen’s head, separated by a perforation line.

Barcoded stamps with the image of  King Charles are also due to gradually be released, along with new coins and banknotes.

Can you use old stamps?

At the moment, you can still use the old stamps without a barcode. However, after the deadline of January 31 these will no longer be valid and you will only be able to send post with the new barcoded stamps.

Any post sent with non-barcoded stamps after the expiry date will be treated as if there is insufficient postage on the item, which usually means the recipient will have to pay a fee to receive the item. Current insufficient postage fees stand at £1.50 for letters and large letters.

Can you use last year's Christmas stamps?

Yes, you can still use last year's Christmas stamps to send Christmas letters and other post this year.

Christmas stamps without barcodes are not included in the swap scheme, meaning that Royal Mail customers will be able to use non-barcoded Christmas stamps even after the deadline.

The company said this was in response to feedback from customers, some of whom save Christmas stamps to use when sending their Christmas cards the following year. However, any newly released Christmas stamps will have barcodes on them.

Other special issue stamps without barcodes on will also remain valid after the deadline.

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How to swap out old stamps

Any old stamps can be swapped for the new barcoded stamps through the Royal Mail's Stamp Swap Out scheme. You will need to complete the Stamp Swap Out form (opens in new tab) if you have up to £200 worth of stamps to swap, or the Bulk Stamps Swap Out Form (opens in new tab) for more that £200 worth of stamps.

There are three ways you can get the Stamp Swap Out form:

  • Via the Royal Mail website
  • By phoning Royal Mail's customer services team on 03457 740740 and asking one to be posted to you for free
  • By visiting your local post office where you can pick up a form and envelope in person

If you've printed your own form, you will need to use your own envelope to send the form with your old stamps. If sending less that £200 worth, write on the envelope Freepost SWAP OUT. No other address details or postcode are needed. 

However, if you are sending over £200 worth of stamps, Royal Mail recommends sending them via a secure service with suitable cover to:

Royal Mail
Swap Out
Tallents House
21 South Gyle Crescent
EH12 9PB

Royal Mail will then send your new stamps back to you, and says it aims to process each application within seven working days - so you should receive your barcoded stamps in just over a week.

There is currently no end date as to when you need to swap out your non-barcoded stamps by, so you can continue swapping them once their expiry date has passed.

How do the new barcoded stamps work?

The move to replace regular stamps with barcoded stamps is part of the Royal Mail's modernisation drive. The company says that the unique barcodes will "facilitate operational efficiencies, enable the introduction of added security features and pave the way for innovative services for customers."

At the moment, when customers scan the barcodes on the new stamps through the Royal Mail app (opens in new tab) they will be shown a video of Shaun the Sheep, which has been exclusively created for Royal Mail. The long term plan is that people will be able to watch videos, find out information and send birthday messages to each other through the barcodes.

Royal Mail has said: "The new postage stamps with barcodes will enable exciting new services by connecting physical stamps to the digital world through the Royal Mail app."

They added: "The 2D barcodes on our postage stamps can be scanned via the Royal Mail app to access digital messaging or information. They also make it easier to track and trace your items from point of postage to their final destination...In the future, we will use these new stamps with individually unique barcodes to send digital information and improve and innovate better security and operational services for our customers."

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Ellie Hutchings
Junior Features Writer

Ellie joined Goodto as a Junior Features Writer in 2022 after finishing her Master’s in Magazine Journalism at Nottingham Trent University. Previously, she completed successful work experience placements with BBC Good Food, The Big Issue and the Nottingham Post, and freelanced as an arts and entertainment writer alongside her studies. In 2021, Ellie graduated from Cardiff University with a first-class degree in Journalism.