The Co-op Group has become the third UK supermarket to pledge to cover cost of the ‘tampon tax’. The prices of over 70 women’s sanitary products will drop by 5% as the retailer will cover the cost of the VAT charge and pass the savings onto customers.
The move comes after Tesco and Waitrose announced similar measures. Sainsbury’s and Asda are still charging customers VAT on sanitary products.
“As a community retailer we feel it’s important to do right by our customers,” said Andy Phelps, the Group’s director of trading. “That’s why we are covering the cost of the 5%t VAT on sanitary products for women who shop with us.”
Campaigners have been calling for VAT to be removed from tampons and similar item, saying they are essential items for women and should therefore be exempt from the levy, as other “non-luxury” products are.
The reasons why some products have zero-rates of VAT – including cakes and bicycle helmets – goes back to the 1970s. VAT replaced the the UK’s tax scheme when the country joined the European Economic Community; at the time the UK already had zero-rates on products such as food and transport.
The UK was allowed to keep on applying the zero-rate to protect lower income households, on the condition that once the rules were applied, there would be no changes. Sanitary items were not on the original list. And while the government has reduced the charge from the usual 20% VAT to 5% in 2000, it says it cannot go further because of EU competition rules.
In 2016, then Prime Minister David Cameron convinced the European Council to introduce regulations that would allow member states to remove VAT on sanitary products. These changes are expected to come into effect later in 2018.
The government also committed to donating the money raised by the ‘tampon tax’ to charities that help women – although this was met with consternation, with people angered by the implication that women were to fund their own care and support for domestic abuse through the sanitary products they had to buy. There was additional controversy when it emerged that one of the recipients of the money was Life, a charity that campaigns against abortion.
Meanwhile, Scotland is on track to become the first country to provide women with universal access to free tampons and sanitary towels after member of the Scottish parliament, Labour’s Monica Lennon, launched a consultation on a members’ bill on Monday.
The move is part of a crackdown on ‘period poverty’, after reports revealed young women in the UK were being forced to skip school during their period, as they could not afford sanitary items. If successful, the move will introduce a system of universal free access to sanitary products in Scotland.