'Tampon tax' abolished across the UK from today
The so-called 'tampon tax' has been abolished across the UK today (1 January 2021) with a zero rate of VAT now applying to sanitary products - down from the previous 5%. But retailers don't necessarily have to pass savings onto consumers.
Until now, the Government had said it was unable to apply any rate of VAT lower than 5% to sanitary products because of an EU rule. But as the Brexit transition period after the UK left the EU ended yesterday (31 December 2020), the tax has been scrapped. See our 22 Brexit Need-to-Knows for further details on how a trade deal will impact property, travel, consumer rights and more.
The move was first announced in Chancellor Rishi Sunak's March 2020 Budget. At the time, the Government estimated that the tax cut would save the average sanitary product user around £40 over their lifetime – with a saving of 7p on a pack of 20 tampons and a 5p saving on a pack of 12 sanitary pads. But as VAT is a business tax, it's up to retailers whether or not to pass on these savings to customers in the price they pay.
Save money on tampons, pads and reusable sanitary products with our Cheap Sanitary Products guide.
Where can you access free sanitary products?
While today's announcement sees a UK-wide tax cut on sanitary products, the devolved governments and other institutions have already implemented their own separate measures to try to prevent so-called 'period poverty':
- In January 2020, there was a rollout of free period products in English state schools and colleges and there's been an extension of this scheme into 2021. Under the initiative, English primary and secondary schools and colleges can order a range of products, such as tampons, sanitary pads and menstrual cups, and make them available for those that need them - though there have been concerns many schools aren't using the scheme.
- New legislation passed in Scotland in November 2020 means that over the next two years local authorities must start to ensure period products, such as tampons, sanitary pads and reusable period items, are available for free to anyone in the area who needs them. It also made it a legal requirement for education establishments to provide free period products for students at schools, colleges and universities.
- The Welsh Government also says it allocated funding in 2020 to ensure students could access free sanitary products in primary and secondary schools. We've asked if this will continue into 2021 and we'll update this story when we know more.
- Some university student unions across the UK also offer free sanitary products. Universities supporting the "Free Periods" campaign include the University of Sunderland and Warwick University.
There is currently no similar scheme across Northern Ireland available at the moment.