Period pants should not be subject to 20% VAT, say firms

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Two major retailers of period pants are calling for them to be VAT-free in line with other sanitary products.

Marks & Spencer and WUKA have been joined by politicians and environmental groups urging the government to act.

Currently period pants, which are absorbent, washable and reusable, are classified as garments and VAT is levied at 20%.

But other period products such as pads, tampons and reusable menstrual cups have been exempt since 2021.

Nearly 50 signatories have signed a letter asking the financial secretary to the Treasury, Victoria Atkins, to reclassify period pants as a period product.

The group said were “delighted” by the government’s decision to abolish the tampon and pad tax two years ago, but said there was “more to do”.

Over the past 20 years period underwear has become more widespread with major high street brands including Tesco, Sainsbury’s, Primark and Next now selling it. Costs for period knickers range from £8 to £46 for a pack of three online.

The pants contain a highly absorbent pad and can be used with tampons or in place of sanitary pads. They can be washed and reused many times just like ordinary pants.

The product rose in popularity during Covid lockdowns, with many people looking for sustainable alternatives to single-use products. M&S says it has seen a steep rise in sales since launching its range three years ago and now sells more than 6,000 packs each week.

However the cost of purchasing the pants can be a hurdle for new users.

Darcey Finch, a 26-year-old illustrator, who has used period pants since the pandemic said she found them “really expensive” and was surprised that they were taxed differently to tampons and pads.

“I just assumed they wouldn’t be taxed – the only negative to them is the price,” Darcey told BBC News.

“It’s unfair that they are not taxed the same as other period products – they’re just extra-padded knickers which are far better for the environment and way more comfortable, taking the stress away at night,” she said.

Darcey has not had to throw any pairs away in the three years since she began using them so the initial cost has been outweighed by their durability, she said.

Almost a quarter of women cite cost as a barrier to using period pants, according to a survey of women aged between 18 and 54.

The same survey found that like Darcey, nearly 70% of women did not realise they were not exempt from VAT like other sanitary products.

VAT, or Value Added Tax, is the tax you pay when you buy goods or services. It is levied on almost everything sold, but is set at a reduced rate of 5% for some items such as children’s car seats and home energy. Food and children’s clothes are deemed essentials, and are zero-rated.

“The government made a brilliant start by removing VAT from disposable period products, but we need them to finish the job and level the playing field,” said Victoria McKenzie-Gould, corporate affairs director at M&S.

If the VAT is removed, M&S has pledged to pass the cost saving onto customers which would means a three-pack of period knickers that currently retail at £20 would cost £16.

As well as politicians, the bosses of Ocado, the Marine Conservation society and leaders from The Football Association and campaigners Breast Cancer Now have signed the letter.

In response, a spokesperson from the Treasury said: “We are committed to making sanitary products affordable and available to all who need them. That is why we have delivered on our promise to scrap the tampon tax so that VAT is no longer charged on sanitary products, such as pads, tampons and reusable menstrual products such as menstrual cups.

“We have also rolled out free sanitary products in schools, colleges and hospitals to continue our fight to end period poverty once and for all,” the spokesperson added.

Cost of living: Tackling it together

Cost of living: Tackling it together

What to do if you can’t afford sanitary products

  • Free sanitary products are available at some leisure centres, libraries and community centres.

  • In England, Wales and Northern Ireland schools and colleges carry free products

  • In Scotland, councils and education providers are legally required to provide sanitary products and you can find the nearest location through the PickupMyPeriod app.

  • The NHS offers free period products to hospital patients.

  • Many food banks provide free toiletries and essentials including menstrual products.

  • Some supermarkets such as Morrisons also give free sanitary products at some of their stores.

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