What Is The Tampon Tax, Why Do We Pay It, And When Will It Finally Be Scrapped?

Quite simply, the ‘Tampon Tax’ is all the revenue earned from the VAT charge applied to the sale of sanitary products.

The standard VAT rate is currently 20%, and this rate applies to most goods and services. But, there are also some things that are charged at a reduced rate of 5% – including sanitary protection products.

Although 5% is obviously better that 20%, some things are exempt from VAT altogether such as postage stamps, cycle helmets, or financial and property transactions

While it’s great that protective and safety equipment is VAT free, and we don’t have to pay an increased rate for our frequently used and much needed stamps thanks to the 0% VAT on them, why are we still paying any VAT at all on sanitary products that so many women rely on every single month to allow them to carry on living their lives as normal?

Tampons and other ‘sanitary protection products’ are currently classed as ‘luxury’, ‘non-essential’ products, and the government have stated that EU rules stop them from lowering the VAT any further than 5% or scrapping the tax entirely.

To date, over 320,000 people have signed a petition on Change.org to scrap the Tampon Tax, and in March 2016, Parliament accepted an amendment proposed by Labour MP Paula Sherriff that would end Tampon Tax once and for all in the UK.


However, although former Prime Minister David Cameron petitioned European ministers to change the rules regarding the ‘Tampon Tax’, progress has been slow.

In 2016, former Prime Minister Cameron announced that, “Britain will be able to have a zero rate for sanitary products, meaning the end of the Tampon Tax.”

However, following ‘Brexit complications’ Cameron’s best laid plans were laid to rest – or at least until April 2018 when the amendment is now due.

Then, in March 2017, Chancellor Philip Hammond announced on Prime Minister Theresa May’s behalf that in the mean time, the government would allocate £12 million of the money earned from the so-called Tampon Tax to support women’s charities, such those tackling domestic violence.

Whilst it may seem like good news that the VAT women are forced to pay on products that many of us can’t live without is going towards a ‘good cause’, the £12 million pledged by Hammond is £3 million less for those essential services that George Osbourne pledged the year before.

Not only might this make you wonder why a Tampon Tax is being used to fund much-needed, vital, life saving services that are continually at risk from closure because of government cuts, but you wouldn’t be alone if you are left questioning why we are still paying this so-called ‘Tampon Tax’ at all.

Women simply should not be charged for products that are essential. As pointed out by Laura Coryton, who is petitioning the government to implement the changes that they promised and suspend the 5% charge on sanitary products, “Not using sanitary products can lead to health risks, jeopardise maintaining a normal, professional or personal life, and result in public ridicule.”

“Periods are no luxury. You can ‘opt-in’ to extravagance. You cannot choose to menstruate.”

Martha Silcott, Founder of FabLittleBagTM, agrees. “I have yet to hear from anyone how having a period is a luxury, and as for essential items – whilst jaffacakes attract zero tax, they definitely would have been zero help to me last month. Nothing against a jaffacake, but given the choice of that or a tampon at a certain time of the month there is only one essential item here.”

“While some of the revenue the tax generates is directed towards shelters for women fleeing domestic violence, which initially feels good, you start to wonder why women are paying to counter the effects of male abuse, not to mention contributions to anti-abortion charities.”

“Abolishing these punitive taxes will also help to disperse the stigma and #screwthetaboo. Let’s hope our daughters grow up in a world where they have a wider education about all the different options to manage periods and will gasp at the absurdity of the concept of a tampon being classed as a “luxury item”!”

While progress for the law’s perspective has been slow in moving towards scrapping the Tampon Tax entirely, there have been some small victories for women thanks to some well-known supermarket chains.

First Tesco, then Waitrose, and now as of this week the Co-op, have all pledged to pay the Tampon Tax on behalf of their customers, meaning that sanitary products will be available to women for a cheaper price in their stores as they will have the 5% VAT charged covered.  

“By covering the VAT cost and reducing the price by 5%, we are confident it will make a difference to our customers,” says Michael Andrews, Director of Buying on Ambient and General Merchandise at Waitrose said.

Michelle McEttrick, Tesco’s group brand director, said: “For many of our customers, tampons, panty liners and sanitary towels are essential products.

“However, the cost of buying them every month can add up, and, for many women and girls, it can be a real struggle on top of other essential items.”

“That’s why – as a little help for our customers – we are reducing the cost of these products by 5 per cent.”

While supermarkets covering the 5% VAT charge on sanitary products is a small step in the right direction, the primary goal is still to have the Tampon Tax abolished entirely. However the Government and the EU are yet to confirm or clarify their timetable for scrapping VAT on sanitary products entirely.

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