When will the tampon tax finally be abolished?

Posted by
Megan Murray

Everything you need to know about the tampon tax in the UK – including when it will finally be abolished. 

When it comes to tampon tax, we can all agree on one thing: the classification of sanitary products as “luxury items” is ridiculous.

But one thing we probably can’t all agree on is what progress is currently being made on the tampon tax.

The notion that the products we need for hygiene, cleanliness and to protect our privacy at our ‘time of the month’ are an optional and lavish purchase, reeks of injustice.

Although in some cultures a woman is considered to be at her most powerful when menstruating, sadly in the UK girls often feel embarrassed and ashamed of getting their periods, made worse by the cost of the products they need to properly deal with them.

Despite menstruation being a unavoidable part of life for women, the government still categorises tampons and pads as being a luxury, slapping more tax on them than buying helicopters and alligator steaks.

Through the work of campaigners and some members of parliament, we’ve finally been promised an end to the tax on sanitary products.

But with lots of conflicting information and parliamentary jargon out there, it can be difficult to pin down exactly when we expect to see the back of this sexist tax.

We’ve put all of the information on the tampon tax in one, easy-to-read place so that you can get your head around what the tampon tax is, what it means and what is being done to abolish it. 

What is the tampon tax?

The tampon tax is a phrase that refers to the amount we are taxed when we buy sanitary products. This includes tampons, panty liners and pads. 

The history of tampon tax

Value Added Tax (VAT) was created in 1973 when the UK joined the European Economic Community. Initially VAT was set at 10% and applied to a range of feminine hygiene products.

Currently the tax for sanitary products is five percent, but it’s been altered many times since the early Seventies, when it was first introduced.

In 1974, VAT was reduced to eight percent, but rose again in 1979 to 15%. In 1991 tax became even more inflated, reaching 17.5%.

In January 2001, following a campaign and debates in parliament, the Labour government recognised how absurdly high the tax was on sanitary products and changed this to a reduced rate of 5%. 

Recent developments on removing the tampon tax

In 2014, British campaigner and feminist activist Laura Coryton founded a campaign called Stop Taxing Periods. In 2015, she followed this up with a petition calling for the UK government to remove tax on menstruation products.

Her petition on gained more than 320,000 signatures and garnered global recognition. Coryton pointed out, with defiance and wit, the ridiculous fact that items like helicopters and alcoholic jellies are considered tax-exempt products, but tampons are not.

The campaign received support by then-Prime-Minister David Cameron, who voiced concerns over the complications of changing EU law.

In an interview for BBC Newsbeat, Cameron said: “I wish we could get rid of this…There’s a problem with getting rid of VAT on certain individual issues because of the way this tax is regulated and set in Europe.”

In October 2015, the government recognised that tax rules needed to be updated and confirmed it would seek a change in EU law to abolish any amount of VAT from being applied to sanitary products as part of a review being undertaken by the European Commission in 2016.

The movement eventually prompted positive action to be taken by both the government and brands such as Tesco, who pledged to support women’s charities and those affected by tampon tax and period poverty.

In autumn 2015, then-Chancellor George Osbourne announced that the funds raised by VAT on sanitary products would be donated to women’s charities. Speaking at the spending review, Osbourne said: “We already charge the lowest 5% rate allowable under European law and we’re committed to getting the EU rules changed. 

Until that happens, I’m going to use the £15m a year raised from the tampon tax to fund women’s health and support charities. The first £5m will be distributed between the Eve Appeal, SafeLives and Women’s Aid and the Haven – and I invite bids from other such good causes.”

In July 2017, Tesco became the first supermarket to pay tampon tax on behalf of its customers by reducing the price of sanitary products by 5%. Waitrose soon followed suit, also reducing the price of tampons and pads to reflect the 5% VAT charge. So far Sainsbury’s, Morrisons, Asda and Boots have all promised that they will pass on the 5% savings to customers when the tampon tax is eventually abolished.

Where is the tampon tax at now? asked the HM Treasury for comment on the current state of tampon tax.

A HM Treasury spokesperson said: “We strongly support removing tax on tampons, and have fought long and hard to change EU law so that we can do it. The Government agrees that these products should not be subject to VAT and at Finance Bill 2016, took the initiative to introduce legislation to enable the zero rate of VAT for women’s sanitary products to take effect as soon as legally possible.

“The Government has been lobbying the EU to change regulations so that we can cut the costs of sanitary products for women by charging no VAT. The EU has today (12 March), published proposals for new VAT arrangements that, if implemented, would allow us to remove this charge.

“Today’s proposal is a step in the right direction and we will continue to push the Member States to make it a reality.

Initial predictions of how long it would take to end tampon tax set out 2018 as a deadline, but after Brexit complications it is thought that a more realistic time frame would be 2022.

Currently sanitary products are still being taxed at 5%.

Images: Getty