Get Informed: The Tampon Tax Explained

By Elizabeth Frowen
Sub-edited by Jasmine Wing

Periods. Men are afraid to talk about them and women can’t avoid them. The ‘Tampon Tax’ is a phrase you may have seen splashed across headlines and at the centre of political debates. But what exactly is the tampon tax?

The term ‘Tampon Tax’ refers to the value added tax on to sanitary products, such as tampons and towels. Currently, this is charged at a reduced rate of 5%.

Critics argue that sanitary products as a necessity should not incur VAT charges. However, despite pressure to scrap the tax entirely, politicians have faced difficulty changing legislation due to binding EU legislation agreed upon in 1973.

Evolution of the tampon tax

1973 – The UK joins the common market. To prevent cross border controls the EU creates a harmonised VAT legislative framework. The UK negotiates which goods and services could attract reduced VAT rates and sets sanitary products at a minimum of 5%.

2000 – The Labour government reduces the rate from 17.5% to the lowest permissible rate of 5%.

2015 – An attempt to further reduce the tax to 0% is defeated in the House of Commons with the government admitting it is bound by EU law.

2016 – Facing criticism to modernise. The EU reverses its approach allowing a 0% VAT rating on sanitary products but proposals are not due to be implemented by 2021. The government responds, introducing an amendment to reduce the VAT to 0% when the EU proposals are implemented.

If the future of the tampon tax seemed clearer in 2016, it was clouded again by the by the referendum result to exit the European Union.

Little is known about how VAT could be implemented post Brexit. The government stated an intention to encourage continued trade relations with ‘common procedures and practices’- in which case the UK is unlikely to see a great change in the current system.

It seems the appetite for the tampon tax to be scrapped has long been whetted. Whether it comes from EU legislation or a post-brexit legislative framework, change does seem on the horizon. But when that change will occur is as yet uncertain.

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