MORE than £45million worth of fake £1 coins are in circulation in Britain today, making forgery an expensive business for traders.

To try to tackle the problem, Chancellor George Osborne announced a new bimetallic coin based on the old predecimal “thruppenny bit” would be introduced in 2017 as one of the hardest coins in the world to forge.

But the head of the Royal Mint, Andrew Mills, admitted the change could cost the country up to £20million, owing to the need to change slots in every shopping trolley, parking metre and vending machine in the land.

This is no less true in Southend, where the council has already estimated the cost would be a hefty £15,000 to replace every single parking meter mechanism in the borough – just five years after a similar sum had to be spent when new 5p and 10p coins were introduced in 2012.

While most of us would only have noticed the coins’ new faces, which featured variations on the royal crest, a less noticeable change was the switching from a copper/nickel alloy to steel .

They are also 11 per cent thicker than the old coins and – for the first time – magnetic.

For the council, this meant a cost of £80 to change each of the 180 parking meters, with parking team leader Jack Creeber predicting a similar cost for the new pound coin.

Train operator c2c will have a similar task on its hand replacing the mechanisms in its 40 ticket machines in the area though an estimate of the cost has not yet been made.

The cost is likely to have a disproportionate effect on small businesses which, in Southend, will land largely on seafront amusements traders.

The Happidrome’s Martin Richards says he is having trouble keeping up with the Government’s changes.

“The new pound coin is easily going to cost between £5,500 and £6,000 for me to change and reprogramme all the slots,” he says.

“All the electronic slots are going to cost £35 a time to reprogramme, but we’ve also a big following for retro games and theyare all going to need new mechanisms making up by an engineer.”

It follows a similar issue for the Happidrome following the introduction of the new 10p coins which, to this day, do not work in the older machines such as Pac Man and Space Invaders due to being magnetic.

“In the Sixties and Seventies,”

Martin says, “the coins were judged by size rather than weight, so people used to use washers that were the right size to get a free game.

“As a result they put magnets in the machines, which would catch washers but, because they were never magnetic, the 10ps worked fine.

“But now, because they’re magnetic, the only way we can get them to work is to get someone to manufacture new slots – for the time being we just have to change people’s coins.”

However, Essex Chamber of Commerce chairman Denise Rossiter said the new pound coin’s resistance to forgery would outweigh the cost of changing slots in the long term.

She added: “I think when businesses are questioning the cost of the new pound coin they should ask how you measure the cost of £45million worth of counterfeit coins being in circulation and what it does to the country.

“It’s absolutely essential we defeat counterfeiters because the impact on businesses at the moment is colossal.”