Yes, Really – This Legislation Prevents Parents From Buying Baby Formula With Loyalty Points

As food prices rise, people in the UK are finding it increasingly difficult to afford basic groceries – in fact, some people have resorted to stealing household staples, including formula milk, just to get by.

Infant formula is without a doubt one of the most expensive items on the shopping list for many parents. The cost has soared over the last year – with the price of the cheapest brand increasing by more than 22%.

A collaborative campaign between the charity Feed UK and The Metro has revealed that for those who do rely on feeding babies formula milk, there are major barriers in the way of accessing it cheaply.

And one of those is a restriction on being able to use loyalty points or vouchers to pay for it.

According to the campaign: “British retailers don’t allow families to buy formula using cash equivalent methods; loyalty points, grocery vouchers, food banks vouchers and, in some cases, even store gift cards.”

They add that, despite alternative payment methods being available, “the high cost of formula together with restrictions on purchases using these cash equivalents means that struggling families have few options”.

Why can’t baby formula be paid for with vouchers or loyalty points?

Well, it’s a little complex. British retailers believe that accepting alternative payment methods for baby formula is prohibited by current law – but some legal experts suggest this could be a bit of a misinterpretation.

The Infant Formula and Follow-on Formula (England) Regulations 2007 prohibits the promotion of formula feeding.

It states that “no manufacturer or distributor of any infant formula shall provide for promotional purposes any infant formula free or at a reduced or discounted price, or any gift designed to promote the sale of an infant formula”.

Under a section labelled ‘restrictions on promotion of infant formula’ it also says that “no person shall at any place where any infant formula is sold by retail ... give away any infant formula as a free sample, or any coupon which may be used to purchase an infant formula at a discount”.

But speaking to The Metro, Dr Erin Williams, the co-founder of Feed UK, said the charity’s legal experts “have recently questioned this interpretation of the law, suggesting the wording of the regulations may actually permit the purchase of infant formula using cash equivalents”.

She added that this would offer additional options for accessing formula for babies – especially during the cost of living crisis when so many families are struggling and the price of a tub of formula, which typically lasts a week, ranges from £8.50-£25.

NHS guidance recommends that babies are exclusively breastfed for the first year of their lives. However, data shows that the majority of babies will be partially or fully formula fed by the time they are 6-8 weeks old.

Campaigners call for government intervention

Campaigners are asking for the UK government to intervene and clarify which restrictions exist so that action can be taken to ensure families have access to baby formula and babies don’t go hungry.

This is important – especially as some of the largest food bank providers have policies in place which prevent their food banks from redistributing formula donations. Yet another barrier for struggling families.

For low income households or those on Universal Credit, some help is available in the form of Healthy Start vouchers – however the cash value of these vouchers is £8.50 per week (for each baby under one), which is no longer enough to cover the cost of most types of infant formula.

A petition is underway calling for the government to clarify promotional rules on formula and, at the time of writing, had just over 2,300 signatures. The campaign has backing from high profile names including Katherine Ryan, Ashley James and Michelle Heaton.

Comedian Katherine Ryan said despite breastfeeding her children, she “supports all mums whatever their feeding journey”.

She added: “Times are hard enough and the cost of formula is going up and up. The fact that there’s no way for families to make formula cheaper or work with their budget with loyalty rewards, price promotions or even vouchers just isn’t okay.”

A government spokesperson told HuffPost UK: “We are supporting families with the cost of feeding babies and young children through our Healthy Start Scheme, which helps parents of children under four from lower-income families buy foods including baby formula, milk or fruit, and get free vitamins.

“We recognise the impact that rising prices are having at home which is why we are providing significant support worth on average £3,300 per household. This includes holding down energy bills, uprating benefits in line with inflation and delivering direct cash payments.”