What is the tampon tax? Period pants finally recognised in sanitary pads tax cut

The Say Pants to the Tax campaign led by Marks and Spencer called on the Chancellor to make period pants VAT free (Matt AlexanderPA Wire)
The Say Pants to the Tax campaign led by Marks and Spencer called on the Chancellor to make period pants VAT free (Matt AlexanderPA Wire)

Consumers will no longer pay VAT on “essential and environmentally friendly” period pants after a two-year campaign.

Period pants will cost £2 less on average – up to 16% – from Tuesday January 2 following the pledge to scrap the tax by Chancellor Jeremy Hunt in the autumn statement 2023.

This comes after a campaign by brands, retailers, women’s groups and environmentalists dating back to 2021, when the so-called “tampon tax” was dropped from other period products such as pads, tampons and menstrual cups.

However, a 20% tax on period pants, which are designed to be worn as an alternative to using tampons and sanitary towels, continued as they were classified as garments.

Retailers including Marks & Spencer and the brand Wuka were among about 50 signatories of a letter to the Treasury in August, which urged the Government to remove VAT on period pants.

In the letter, they pledged to pass on any tax cut straight to customers, “so they feel the benefit of the cost saving immediately”.

The letter added that period pants could reduce plastic pollution and waste and save people money in the long term, but added that “one of the main barriers to switching to period pants is cost”.

Tesco, John Lewis and M&S later announced they would cover the cost of VAT on period pants.

The financial secretary to the Treasury, Nigel Huddleston, said: “This is a victory for women across the UK and for the campaigners who’ve helped raise awareness of the growing importance of period pants. It’s only right that women and girls can find more affordable options for what has become an essential and environmentally friendly product.”

Victoria McKenzie-Gould, corporate affairs director at M&S, said: “Paying tax on period pants was a bum deal for women everywhere so we’re thrilled that the Treasury has done the right thing by axing the tax and levelling the playing field on period products for good. Nearly 25% of women cite cost as a barrier to using period pants so we know the new legislation that comes into effect from today will make a big difference to women’s budgets across the UK.

“A big thank you to Wuka, the tens of thousands of individuals, politicians, brands and retailers who threw their weight behind our campaign – Say Pants to the Tax – and, of course, a big thank you to the Chancellor and HM Treasury team who made the change we were campaigning for a reality.”

What is the tampon tax?

Tampon tax is a term used to bring attention to tampons, and other feminine hygiene products, being subject to value-added tax unlike the tax exemption status given to other products considered basic necessities.

Campaigners have argued that tampons, sanitary napkins, menstrual cups and other products that serve the basic menstrual cycle are unavoidable necessities for women and should therefore be tax-exempt – similar to food products and personal medical items.

Is it different from the pink tax?

The "pink tax" refers to the tendency for products marketed specifically towards women to be more expensive than those marketed towards men.

When was the tampon tax scrapped in UK?

The tampon tax was abolished in the UK on January 1, 2021 after the UK left the EU, meaning there is now a zero rate of VAT applying to women's sanitary products.

"I’m proud that we are today delivering on our promise to scrap the tampon tax. Sanitary products are essential so it’s right that we do not charge VAT," Rishi Sunak said at the time.

"We have already rolled out free sanitary products in schools, colleges and hospitals, and this commitment takes us another step closer to making them available and affordable for all women."

Were period pants included in the tampon tax?

Period pants were classed as "garments" and therefore were not covered in the 2021 law change.

Does Europe have a tampon tax?

None of the EU27 nations has reached a decision to fully eliminate the tampon tax, though an EU law introduced last April allows member states to exempt (VAT) on sanitary products.