Guidance

Carrier bag charges: retailers' responsibilities

Find out when you must charge a minimum of 10 pence for single-use carrier bags, bags you're not required to charge for and the records you must keep and submit.

Applies to England

From 21 May 2021 retailers of any size (large, medium, small, micro and airport retailers) must charge a minimum of 10 pence for single-use carrier bags in England. You could be fined if you do not charge.

Only large retailers are required to record and report the number of single-use carrier bags they sell in England. A large retailer employs 250 or more full-time equivalent employees (in total and not just in retail roles) in a year.

Work out if you count as a large retailer.

You must charge if you:

  • sell goods in England
  • deliver goods to England

As a retailer you must charge for:

  • non-reusable bags (single-use carrier bags)
  • bags used for collections and deliveries

You do not need to charge an extra 10 pence if you already charge 10 pence or more for bags.

Bags you charge for

From 21 May 2021 you must charge a minimum of 10 pence a bag (including VAT) for single-use carrier bags that are all of the following:

  • unused - it’s new and has not already been used for sold goods to be taken away or delivered
  • plastic and 70 microns thick or less
  • it has handles, an opening and is not sealed

Monitor self checkouts

You must do all you can to make sure that you charge for bags at self checkouts. For example, the checkouts ask shoppers how many bags they used and charges for them.

Bags you’re not required to charge for

Some bags are exempt - you do not have to charge for these, but can if you want to.

You do not have to charge if the bag only contains certain items, but if you add other items then you must charge.

For example, you’re not required to charge for a bag containing an unwrapped blade and unwrapped loose seeds. But if you add a box of cornflakes then you would have to charge.

Returnable bags and bags for life

You’re not required to apply the 10 pence charge for:

  • woven plastic bags
  • multiple reuse bags (bags for life), when replacing free of charge, if originally sold for 10 pence or more

You can still charge for these bags but you do not need to record sales and proceeds as you do with single-use carrier bags.

A returnable multiple reuse bag must be all of the following:

  • sold for 10 pence or more
  • suitable for reuse
  • replaced free of charge if returned to you when worn out

Food and plants

You’re not required to charge for plastic bags that are solely used for:

  • uncooked fish and fish products
  • uncooked meat, poultry and their products
  • unwrapped food for animal or human consumption - such as chips, or food in containers that aren’t secure enough to prevent leakage during handling
  • unwrapped loose seeds
  • flowers
  • bulbs, corms or rhizomes (roots, stems and shoots, such as ginger).
  • goods contaminated by soil (like potatoes or plants)

Products

You’re not required to charge for bags:

  • for unwrapped blades, including axes, knives, and knife and razor blades
  • for prescription medicine
  • used for a service, but there is no sale of goods, for example dry cleaning

Live fish and aquatic creatures

You’re not required to charge for bags holding live fish or other aquatic creatures.

Packaging, transport and promotions

You’re not required to charge for bags:

  • that are sealed transit bags used for alcohol and tobacco
  • considered as sealed packaging for mail order and click-and-collect orders
  • used to give away free promotional material

Work out if you’re a large retailer

You need to work out how many full-time equivalent employees you have at the start of each reporting year.

The reporting year runs from 7 April each year to 6 April in the following year.

Work out your number of employees

On the first day of the reporting year calculate how many full-time equivalent employees you have:

  1. Work out how many hours a full-time employee would work in a year (for example 40 hours by 52 weeks is 2,080).
  2. Multiply this by the amount of full-time workers there for the full year (for example 200 workers by 2,080 is 416,000).
  3. Work out part-time and seasonal workers’ hours by multiplying their weekly hours by the weeks worked (for example 100 workers by 20 hours by 10 weeks, added to 100 workers by 40 hours by  25 weeks is 20,00 plus 100,000, giving 120,000).
  4. Add the full-time and part-time or seasonal workers’ hours together (for example 416,000 plus 120,000 is 536,000).
  5. Divide this by the amount of hours a full-time employee would work in a year (for example 536,000 divided by 2,080 is 257.7).

If this number is 250 or more, you must record and report the number of single-use carrier bags you sell each year.

Franchises and symbol groups

If your store is part of a franchise or symbol group (an independent retailer that shares a brand-name shop and products) you only count employees in your business.

You do not count the franchise or symbol group as a whole.

For example if you’re part of a symbol group and you own:

  • 10 stores in a symbol group and have more than 250 employees in total - you must record and report the number of single-use carrier bags you sell each year
  • 2 stores with 15 employees - you must charge 10 pence for single-use carrier bags, but you do not have to record or report the number of bags you sell each year

Records you must keep and submit

Large retailers (with over 250 employees) must keep a reporting year’s records for 3 years from 31 May in the following reporting year. For example, you must keep your records for 5 October 2020 to 6 April 2021 until 31 May 2024.

You can be fined if you do not keep records.

You’ll also need to consider HM Revenue and Customs guidance on VAT.

You must record for the whole reporting year:

  • the number of single-use carrier bags you supplied
  • the gross and net proceeds of the charge
  • any VAT in the gross proceeds
  • what you did with the proceeds from the charge
  • any reasonable costs and how they break down

Report your records

The reporting period from 7 April 2020 to 6 April 2021 is now closed. The data that retailers have submitted will be published as Open Government Data under the Open Government Licence.

Reasonable costs

Reasonable costs include new costs you incurred by following the law on charging. This might include:

  • the cost of changing till systems
  • training staff
  • communicating the policy to staff and customers
  • getting expert advice
  • administering donations to good causes

You cannot include existing costs, such as the cost of the bags.

Replying to public enquiries

If you’re a large retailer, you must provide copies of the records you keep on single-use carrier bag sales to members of the public if they ask to see them. You must provide copies within 28 days of the request.

Donating the proceeds

Once you’ve deducted reasonable costs, it’s expected that you’ll donate all proceeds to good causes, particularly environmental causes.

Since the government introduced the charge:

  • it’s generated approximately £150 million for good causes
  • the 7 key retailers have distributed around 15.6 billion fewer bags

We publish a summary which includes the results reported to us by retailers, and the amounts of money given to good causes.

Getting inspected

Your local authority inspects you to check you are following the law. Inspectors can:

  • visit your shop or store
  • make test purchases
  • speak to staff
  • demand records

Inspectors do not have to give you warning but can carry these out as ‘secret shopper’ exercises. If they find a problem they can:

  • issue a non-compliance notice stating what you must do to fix the problem
  • impose a fixed penalty
  • impose a variable penalty
  • order you to publicise (such as adverts in local papers or posters in your store) that you’ve broken the law, what your penalty was and how you’re now complying

Inspectors can order you to cover the cost of the investigation if you break the law.

Trading across different regions

If you trade across different regions of the UK, you can apply for a Primary Authority agreement. You can then choose to deal with just one local authority rather than the authorities in each area you trade in.

How much you can be fined

Your local authority must publish details of fine levels, and when it will impose them, on its website.

You cannot receive a variable fine if you’ve already received a fixed fine for the same problem, unless you’ve received a non-compliance notice for the problem.

Fixed penalties

Problem Penalty
Not charging for bags appropriately £200
Not keeping records £100
Not supplying records £100

Variable penalties

Problem Maximum penalty
Not charging for bags appropriately £5,000
Not keeping records £5,000
Not supplying records £5,000
Giving false or misleading information to, or otherwise obstructing or failing to assist the local authority £20,000

Paying fines on time

Fines are:

  • reduced by 50% if you pay within 28 days
  • increased by 50% if you fail to pay within 56 days

Appeals and objections

You can object within 28 days of you receiving a fine, the fine or letter will tell you how to do so.

You can appeal a penalty if you feel your fine was wrong, unreasonable or based on an error. You can also appeal if you feel that your non-monetary requirement is unreasonable, or if the variable amount penalty is too high.

Further information

You can read the policy on the carrier bag charge.

We published a call for evidence on 22 July 2019 to explore the development of standards or certification criteria for biodegradable, compostable and bio-based plastics. The government response was published on 8 April 2021.

Email Defra at Plastics.Consultation@defra.gov.uk for more information about carrier bags policy.

Published 23 March 2015
Last updated 5 July 2021 + show all updates
  1. Amended section 'Report your records' to show the reporting period until 6 April 2021 has closed.

  2. Guidance updated to show new 10 pence charge for single-use carrier bags from 21 May 2021. Businesses of all sizes must apply this charge.

  3. Link for retailers to report single-use carrier bag records has been updated for 2020 to 2021 period. References to temporary period for not charging for carrier bags in England have been removed.

  4. Updated with a link to the survey to report records from 7 April 2019 to 6 April 2020. The deadline for reporting is 31 May 2020.

  5. Updated to reflect the temporary suspension of charging for bags on online deliveries from 21 March 2020.

  6. Updated the amount of money generated for good causes and the amount of bags distributed under the 'Dealing with the proceeds' heading.

  7. Links to the registration and reporting websites have been added to the Records you must keep and submit section. The text has been updated to explain the reporting process.

  8. Updated 'Register and report your records' to explain the process and dates for reporting for 2018. The first section and 'Work out if you’re a large retailer' have been amended to make to clarify which retailers must report.

  9. We have added more information about the results of the scheme.

  10. Added text under 'Submitting records' heading to explain that the reporting period has closed for the year 7 April 2016 to 6 April 2017.

  11. Added link to register on reporting website. Updated reporting date example period to 2016/17.

  12. Added link to new Carrier Bags Charge Reporting Portal.

  13. Updated reporting guidance on using the dedicated reporting website.

  14. Update on reporting dates and sending your details. If you send your name and email before 31 March 2016 you'll be sent a link on 7 April 2016 to the reporting website. After 31 March you should still send your details to Defra (by 23 May 2016 at the latest) but you may have to wait to receive the link.

  15. Updated text to improve clarity.

  16. We updated the guidance on reusable bags. Although the regulations state size and thickness, Defra has told inspectors to treat bags as reusable if they meet the other requirements.

  17. We've corrected a date in the "sending records to Defra" section - in the example quoted, the deadline for reporting would be 31 May 2016.

  18. First published.