The essential guide to barcoded postage stamps

A Large 1st class barcoded Royal Mail postage stamp. It is blue.

While some may consider letter-writing an old-fashioned method of communication, postage stamps are set to go digital forever this summer.

Royal Mail originally announced this significant change in February 2022, initially saying that old stamps must be used or exchanged for barcoded versions by 31 January 2023.

However, the company has since extended the deadline to the end of July due to customers’ concern and confusion.

Many people have books of regular stamps stashed away at home, handy for posting the occasional letter. Some also bought their stamp books in bulk before the annual price hike to send the following year’s Christmas cards.

Let’s take a look at barcoded stamps, the exciting new services they may offer, and what you need to do with your regular stamps before the updated deadline.

What are barcoded stamps?

So, what do the new stamps look like?

Four barcoded Royal Mail postage stamps of various values and colours.

The new barcoded postage stamps are self-adhesive labels featuring a profile of the monarch and barcode alongside the main body of the stamp,separated by a simulated perforation line. The barcode and stamp are colour matched.

How to use barcoded stamps

You can use barcoded stamps the same way as the originals — buy a stamp, attach it to your envelope, and post it.

Using the Royal Mail app, you can also select a video for the recipient to view via the barcode.

A screenshot of the Royal Mail app featuring the barcoded stamp feature of adding a video.

Select a video to send to the letter recipient

Once the envelope has arrived at its destination, the recipient can scan the barcode to watch your chosen video.

In time, more innovative services will be added to the app for customers, such as the ability to send personalised birthday messages via a stamp.

The benefits of barcoded stamps

Alongside the fun, barcodes make mail more traceable as it travels through the postal system.

Before barcoded stamps, customers could only follow the location of their mail if they paid extra for a tracked service. Now, nearly every piece of mail will be traceable.

Increased traceability will result in less lost mail and reassure customers when the system is slow.

When do regular postage stamps expire?

With the recent updates, many of you are undoubtedly wondering, “how long can I use my old postage stamps?”

The deadline for using or swapping out your regular, non-barcoded postage stamps is now 31 July 2023.

After this date, letters sent using the retired stamps will be treated as an item with insufficient postage, incurring a surcharge and a probable delay before Royal Mail attempts delivery.

Which stamps are being retired?

Regular stamps featuring the monarch’s profile without barcodes are being retired. This includes 1st and 2nd class stamps and ones with monetary values printed on them.

All special issue stamps (for example, Star Wars or Coronation Street stamps) are remaining in circulation and don’t need to be swapped out.

Christmas stamps will have barcodes going forward, but customers can still use unbarcoded versions beyond the July deadline.

What to do with your old postage stamps

If you don’t have many old stamps, the easiest thing to do is to use them before the deadline.

If you won’t manage this or have too many to use by July, you can participate in the Stamp Swap Out scheme.

Stamp Swap Out scheme

You can collect a Freepost envelope and Stamp Swap Out scheme form from your local Post Office or Royal Mail Delivery Office.

Simply complete the form, place your old stamps in the envelope, and post it. You will then receive barcoded replacement stamps in the mail to the value of the stamps you send off.

If you don’t have easy access to a Post Office, you can print out a Stamp Swap Out form and send it along with the stamps, to Freepost SWAP OUT.

Individuals or businesses with over £200 worth of stamps will need to complete a Bulk Stamp Swap Out form and send it to:

Royal Mail

Swap Out

Tallents House

21 South Gyle Crescent


EH12 9PB

When returning high value stamps, it is recommended you post them via a secure service with appropriate cover.

Royal Mail aims to process its Stamp Swap Out applications within seven working days, so most customers should receive their new stamps within a fortnight.

However at busier times, the team will be slower, and delays are to be expected.


Have questions or thoughts about Royal Mail’s plan to connect physical stamps to the digital world? Let us know in the comments.

Our blog post on what to do with used stamps is also fantastic inspiration for those who recycle envelopes and want to give their stamps a new lease of life.

Lucy is our lead editor and has been passionate about stationery since childhood. She has a particular fondness for rollerball and calligraphy pens and is a keen advocate of snail mail.

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