No spare change for £393bn €-Day

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The Independent Online

Banks in 12 European countries were yesterday trying to limit the inevitable technical hitches ahead of the biggest mass changeover of currency in modern times. Around 300 million people should be able to start using euro notes and coins from the New Year at the start of an unparalleled financial experiment.

The demand for mini-kits of euro coins, which have sold out in many countries, indicates that the currency will be accepted with some enthusiasm. But bank officials are concerned that there will be huge over-demand for euro notes on New Year's Day and that bank cash machines could run dry.

Belgium's biggest retail bank, Fortis, has been forced to delay distribution through around 1,000 of its automated teller machines by one day until 2 January. But the Belgian national bank said that more than 5,000 cash machines should be dispensing euros on New Year's Day and urged customers to act as normal.

In the Netherlands, by contrast, euros got into circulation too early. A hotel said its cigarette machine was giving change in euros and a nursing home was reprimanded for putting €5 bills – in envelopes marked "not to be opened before 1 January" – in Christmas hampers for its workers.

Some 15 billion banknotes and 52 billion coins worth €646bn (£393bn) have been made ready for the changeover. France is confident it will meet demand while Germany is hoping to achieve a mass switchover on day one – but other countries have a period of dual circulation, which is bound to produce some confusion at the tills.