Campaigners say the removal of VAT from period pants is a “real victory” for consumers and reflects their role as an essential product rather than a fashion item or a luxury.
HM Treasury posted on X, formerly known as Twitter, shortly after the Chancellor’s autumn statement, that: “Women should be able to choose period products that work for them. Following the scrapping of tampon tax, we’re expanding the 0% rate of VAT on women’s period products to include period underwear. This means better access to period products for women & girls across our country.”
It follows a campaign by brands, retailers, women’s groups and environmentalists dating back to 2021, when the so-called “tampon tax” was dropped from other period products such as pads, tampons and menstrual cups.
However, a 20% tax on period pants, which are designed to be worn as an alternative to using tampons and sanitary towels, continued as they were classified as garments.
Retailers including Marks & Spencer and the brand Wuka were among around 50 signatories of a letter to the Treasury in August, which urged the Government to remove VAT on period pants.
In the letter, they pledged to pass on any tax cut straight to customers, “so they feel the benefit of the cost saving immediately”.
The letter added that period pants “have the power to reduce plastic pollution and waste”, and could save people money in the long term, but added that “one of the main barriers to switching to period pants is cost”.
Women should be able to choose period products that work for them.
Following the scrapping of tampon tax, we're expanding the 0% rate of VAT on women's period products to include period underwear.
This means better access to period products for women & girls across our country. pic.twitter.com/POb2872Ox3
— HM Treasury (@hmtreasury) November 22, 2023
A number of retailers, including Tesco, John Lewis and Marks & Spencer, later announced they would cover the cost of VAT on period pants.
Marks & Spencer has estimated that the cost of the VAT exemption would be 55p a year for a UK household with an average income – about the price of a pint of milk.
Victoria McKenzie-Gould, director of corporate affairs at M&S, said: “Paying tax on period pants was a bum deal for women everywhere and it’s great to see the Treasury throw in the towel and axe the pants tax.
“I want to thank our campaign partner Wuka and the tens of thousands of individuals, politicians, brands and retailers who have thrown their weight behind our campaign to Say Pants To The Tax.
“This is small change to the Treasury, but will make a big difference to women across the country. We’re delighted that the Chancellor has finished the job and levelled the playing field so that whatever period product someone chooses to use, it’s VAT free.”
Modibodi executive director Kerry Cusack said: “Modibodi was the first period underwear brand to campaign for the removal of VAT back in 2021, when other menstrual products such as pads and tampons had it removed, so we’re absolutely thrilled that the collective voice of the industry and women and girls who menstruate has been heard, and the Government has decided to remove VAT from period underwear in the autumn statement.
“This is monumental for the menstruation industry, and a real victory for people who menstruate.
“Too long have period pants been taxed the same as luxury items such as jewellery and champagne, when period products are essential for those who menstruate.
“Alongside our industry colleagues, we have fought and campaigned for taking VAT off period pants to give more people choice. Choice to manage their period in a way which works for them, and the option to choose a more eco-friendly way to manage their periods at a lower budget.”
Kelly Newton, co-founder of Nixi Body, said: “Finally. Whilst we can all agree that this is good news, we believe this is the absolute minimum women and those who bleed or leak should expect from Chancellor Jeremy Hunt and the Government in 2023.
“Period pants are not fashion items, nor are they a luxury. They are essential items required by women to manage their everyday health effectively, comfortably and sustainably, so should have been made tax-exempt alongside pads and tampons back in 2021.
“In today’s cost-of-living crisis, the issue of period poverty is on the rise, with around 21% of women and girls in the UK currently struggling to afford period care products.
“A saving of around £4 (a £22 pair of knickers comes down to £17.60; an £18 pair to £14.40) makes these products so much more accessible and will encourage people to make the choice to ditch disposables, diverting vast amounts of plastic-riddled single-use period products from our oceans and landfill.”