UK scraps ‘tampon tax’ in move hailed by rights groups

UK says Brexit made it possible to drop sales tax on period products, given country is no longer bound by EU rules.

Feminine hygiene products are seen in a pharmacy in London [Stefan Wermuth/Reuters]

Britain will stop charging VAT on tampons and sanitary towels from Friday, the finance ministry announced, saying Brexit made it possible to drop the sales tax on essential period products.

The country left the European Union single market and customs union at 23:00 GMT on Thursday, ending nearly 50 years where it was bound by rules from Brussels.

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Its departure means it no longer has to apply an EU law mandating a minimum five percent tax on sanitary products, classed as non-essential luxury items, the Treasury said.

“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,” said chancellor Rishi Sunak.


“Period products are not, & have never been, a luxury – delighted this absurd tax has at last been axed!” tweeted Free Periods, a London-based campaign group. “Next up: free period products, by law!”

Sunak originally announced the measure in his budget in March.

Politicians had long called for the measure, and it became a symbolic issue for some Brexiteers.

The EU in 2016 said it would give its member states the option of removing the tax, following pressure from then-British Prime Minister David Cameron.

But the change has not come into force.

Felicia Willow, chief executive of the Fawcett Society, a charity campaigning for gender equality and women’s rights, welcomed the move.

“It’s been a long road to reach this point, but at last the sexist tax that saw sanitary products classed as non-essential, luxury items can be consigned to the history books,” she said.

Conservative MP Sir Bernard Jenkin in parliament on Wednesday said: “I think it’s worth reminding ourselves that we will be able to do things like abolish the tampon tax … only because we’re leaving the EU.”

Another activist, Laura Coryton, who started the Stop Taxing Periods campaign in 2014, told the Guardian website: “It is a day of celebration today.”

But she added it was “frustrating that the tampon tax is being used as a political football in terms of Brexit”.

In her view, Brexit will make it less likely the tax is abolished EU-wide, since Britain was leading the push for it, she added.

For the last year, free period products have already been distributed in schools and universities in England as well as to hospital patients.

Scotland has gone further and in November passed a bill giving women the legal right to free access to sanitary products in public buildings – the first country in the world to do so.

Source: Al Jazeera and news agencies