5 p carrier bag charge England
August 1, 2018

What Are The Exemptions To The Carrier Bag Charge?


Since the UK introduced the 5p carrier bag charge in 2015, the amount of single-use carrier bags being given out by major retailers has reduced by 85%. This equates to a drop from 140 to 25 bags for the average person per year.

That’s quite a result, and while the charge only applies to major retailers in England at the moment – that’s those with 250 plus employees – the government is consulting on extending the carrier bag charge to almost all shops. In fact, they’ve actually already done this in Scotland and Wales.

There are exceptions to the rule, with certain bag types that don’t carry the charge, and retailers who are not legally required to charge you for your plastic carrier bag. In these cases it is up to the retailer to decide whether to charge or not.


Carrier bag charges are the retailer’s responsibility


If you are a large retailer with over 250 full-time equivalent employees you must charge the 5p levy if you either sell goods in, or deliver goods to England.

  • The charge is for single-use plastic carrier bags used for collections and deliveries.
  • You must charge for new, unused carrier bags that have handles or an opening that isn’t sealed, and that is made from plastic 70microns thick or less.
  • You have to charge for plastic bags used for online sales, click and collect or home delivery service (unless the customer opts for a bag-less delivery).


Some bags are exempt from the charge, even to the large retailer; for example you don’t need to charge for unwrapped loose seeds, but if you were to add a sealed packed of biscuits then the bag would have to be charged for. Other exemptions from the charge are:-

  • Bags for life – this includes bags made from jute, cotton, etc. – when being reused, providing they were sold for 5p or more originally
  • Bags for Life when being replaced, providing they were sold originally for 5p or more
  • Bags used for uncooked fish, meat and poultry products
  • Unwrapped food for human or animal consumption, like fast-food, or food in containers that may leak on handling
  • Goods contaminated by soil like plants or potatoes
  • Flowers, bulbs and root stem products like ginger
  • Unwrapped blades and knives
  • Prescription medicine
  • Dry cleaning
  • Sealed packaging for posting (like our printed mailing bags)
  • Bags used for goods in transport, like airports, planes, ships or trains
  • Bags used to give out promotional freebies


Accurate records have to be kept on the supply of single-use carrier bags


For those retailers with over 250 employees, it is a legal requirement that you keep accurate recorders of the single-use carrier bags you supply in the financial year (April 7th – April 6th), and you must hold on to these for three years after the reporting year. You must also submit a copy to the Secretary of State via the Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs Carrier Bags Charge Reporting Portal. Smaller retailers can voluntarily submit records; whilst this is optional now, it would be good practice to do so anyway, helping with statistics and to get you into the habit should it become mandatory in the future.

Your reports must include the following:-

  • Number of single-use carrier bags supplied during the reporting year.
  • Total proceeds of the charge; that is 5p multiplied by the number of chargeable bags sold.
  • Total of any VAT received by way of the gross proceeds of the charge.
  • Total amount of any reasonable costs incurred to comply with the legislation, for example, staff training, customer notices, administering donations, and a breakdown of these costs.
  • The net proceeds of the charge. This represents what is left after deducted ‘reasonable costs’ and any VAT.
  • Proceeds should be donated to good causes – you need to report on where the proceeds have been given.


Since the charge was introduced in 2015 it has generated around £95 million for good causes; that’s approx. 4p for every single-use carrier bag sold. You can see a summary of the data single-use carrier bags in England on the GOV.UK website.


Inspections and Penalties


Local authorities will carry out random inspections to ensure retailers are following the law. They may visit your store, make a test purchase, speak to your staff or demand to see your records. They don’t have to give notice and may do these checks as a secret shopper exercise.

There are penalties for not complying with the single-use carrier bag levy if you…

  • Fail to charge for the bag – £200
  • Fail to keep the required records – £100
  • Fail to supply the records – £100


These can be extended to up to £20,000 for giving false information or failing to assist an administrator. You can even be ordered to publicise the fact that you have broken the law, what your penalty was and how you are now complying.


What are the benefits of the single-use carrier bag levy?


Single-use plastic bags cause litter, damage wildlife and take much longer than other bags to degrade. Something had to be done. In 2014 over 7.6 billion single-use carrier bags were given out by major retailers in England. Since introducing the levy the number has decreased by 85%. The government estimate that over the next 10 years the benefits will include:-

  • Up to £730 million raised for good causes
  • £60 million saved in litter clean-up costs
  • Carbon saving of £13 million
  • Overall benefit of over £780 million to the UK economy


With over 9 billion fewer single-use carrier bags used since the scheme was introduced we have to be seeing a difference!

Now that you know the exemptions, the penalties and the benefits of the 5p levy scheme, it’s up to you to optimise it and help good causes in your community.

If you’d like to ask us about which type of printed bag is best for you in accordance with the charge (and the environmental impact), get in touch by emailing sales@theprintedbagshop.co.uk – we’d be happy to help.