About the Carrier Bag Tax
July 9, 2015

What you need to know about the English carrier bag charge

What is it all about?

From 5 October 2015 retailers in England must charge a minimum of 5p for every single-use plastic bag they pass on to their customers. This also includes companies that deliver goods to England. The law is already in force in Scotland and Wales.


Will I be affected?

All retail companies with more than 250 full-time-equivalent employees have to make the change. If you run a small or medium-sized business, you will not be affected.

If you’re not sure, you can calculate the number of your employees by taking the total number of hours worked by your staff and dividing it by the number of hours worked by one full-time employee.


What do I need to do?

If you are affected, you will have to charge a minimum of 5p per carrier bag that you provide to customers.

You will also have to keep records of the number of bags that you provide each year, how much you received from charging for the bags (gross and net, plus VAT), what you did with the proceeds and any reasonable costs.

At the end of each reporting year you must send your records to Defra. There are fixed penalties and fines for absent, incomplete or inaccurate information.


Are all bags affected?

No. The law only applies to unused single-use carrier bags with handles and an opening. It doesn’t include bags for life, paper bags, cotton or jute bags.

Some goods that have to be sold in plastic bags for practical reasons (e.g. nuts and seeds), for safety reasons (knives and razors) or hygiene reasons (pharmaceutical drugs, raw fish and meat) are also exempt.

This is also true for plastic bags used for goods in transport, including at airports, railway stations, or ports.

Another exception to the rule is when the bag is being used to give away free promotional material. This means you can still use plastic bags for giveaways at events, conferences and trade fairs.


What about online deliveries?

The good news for online retailers is that sealed bags used in mail order deliveries and click-and-collect shopping are not affected by the law.

However, if your business uses open plastic bags for deliveries you should consider offering bagless delivery options, as you will have to charge customers for these bags.


What about returnable multiple use bags and biodegradable bags?

Any returnable multiple use bags must be sold for 5p or more and can be replaced free.

You will also have to charge for biodegradable bags, but the government is considering an exemption in the future.


Can I use part of the income to cover my costs?

Yes. The new law allows retailers to deduct reasonable costs from the proceeds of the carrier bags.

Reasonable costs include: the cost of changing till systems, staff training, communicating the new policy throughout the company, getting expert advice and administering donations to good causes.

However, you will be expected to give most of the proceeds to a charity or good cause.


Who will enforce the law?

Local authorities in the area where your business is based will enforce the new charge. Inspectors can visit your stores at any time. If they believe you have not complied, they can question staff and demand relevant documentation.


What are the consequences of not complying?

If you haven’t been charging for carrier bags your company could be fined. The local authority will publish a report on their website. You can also be forced to publicise the fact that you didn’t comply with the law.


Are there any alternatives?

Yes! Reducing the number of plastic bags used in the UK is good for the environment. Instead of charging customers for plastic carrier bags, you could decide to stock attractive printed paper, cotton or jute bags.


As well as being reusable, these printed bags can enhance your customers’ shopping experience and spread recognition of your brand.

The Printed Bag shops offers a wide range of bespoke printed bags for all types of retail business, including luxury laminated printed bags, printed (sealed) mailing bags and twisted handle paper bags.

To speak to one of our lovely team about printed bags and which is best for you, contact us on sales@theprintedbagshop.co.uk or 0191 268 7555.