Bank of Portugal returned a total of 324,853 banknotes between 2002 and 2021 to citizens who had damaged the notes, valuing a total of €12.6 million, the bank told Lusa news agency in a statement.

Of the 324,853 total notes, 299,013 were euro notes valuing €12.2 million. The remainder of the notes were escudo, which amounted to a value of €358 thousand.

In 2017, the value of notes returned to citizens by the central bank's banknote valuation service exceeded €1 million for the first time. In that year, 35,636 euro banknotes worth almost €1.4 million and 2,433 escudo banknotes worth €27,000 were valued. From the June 2017 wildfires alone, 4,022 notes arrived at the Bank of Portugal to be valued. From that year onwards the requests for banknote valuation have increased and, with the exception of 2020, in each year more than €1 million are reimbursed. 2018 was the year in which the highest amount was paid out, with more than €1.8 million worth of notes being valued by the service.

In 2019, 36,688 euro notes and 767 escudo notes were recovered and almost €1.3 million was paid out. In 2020, 23,419 euro banknotes and 1,700 escudo banknotes were recovered and €983,000 was paid out. Finally, in 2021, 39,557 euro and 1,339 escudo banknotes were recovered, and €1.6 million was paid out.

Since March 1st of this year, the last escudo banknotes have expired, so they can no longer be recovered.

Any citizen who has destroyed or mutilated banknotes (damaged by humidity, burnt, eaten by animals, among other reasons) can send them to Bank of Portugal so that they can be valued. For a euro banknote to be revalued, more than 50% of the surface has to be able to be reconstructed, so that its authenticity can be guaranteed by the security features (in the case of escudo banknotes, this was 75%).

If it is possible to value the banknote, it is destroyed, and citizens are given the corresponding amount. In a 20 euro banknote, even if only half of it is visible, the value of 20 euro is credited to the account of the holder or the legitimate owner. If the banknotes are unrecognisable, they are destroyed and the owner does not receive any compensation.

All cases of destroyed banknotes that reach Bank of Portugal for valuation are reported to the Financial Intelligence Unit of the Criminal Police (PJ) and to the Central Department of Investigation and Penal Action (DCIAP), in order to prevent possible crimes. When handing over the banknotes, citizens have to fill in a form with their details and the context of how the notes were destroyed. If the cash has been deliberately damaged it is not eligible for replacement.

According to the coordinator of the cash operational area (where the cash valuation unit is located), José Luís Ferreira, there are cases in which the money reimbursed does not equate to the full original value of the notes, due to the state of the banknotes, and only part of it is paid out.

There are other cases in which Bank of Portugal pays more than people thought they had, when they lost track of how much they had stored. In one of the cases reported to Lusa, a citizen handed over 200 thousand euros in damaged notes because they were buried and was paid more because he or she had much more than 200 thousand euros.

When the 2008 banking crisis struck, and there were fears of the collapse of the banks and loss of savings, many people withdrew money and kept it at home. A few years later, when those same people went to get the notes they had saved to use, they realised they'd been destroyed.

According to the head of Bank of Portugal's cash valuation unit, the increase in valuations in 2011 and 2012 was due to this. From 2008 to 2010, around 8,000 notes were recovered each year, in 2011, 11,722 notes worth €475.4 thousand were recovered and in 2012 there were 12,718 notes worth €473.4 thousand were recovered.

Recently, on the island of São Jorge (Azores), the fear that a volcanic eruption would destroy homes led many people to go and get money kept at home to deposit in the bank. Then, they realised the state of the notes and many turned to Bank of Portugal for their money to be valued.