Find out when you must charge a minimum of 5p for single use plastic carrier bags, bags you're not required to charge for and the records you must keep and submit.
You must charge a minimum of 5p for single-use carrier bags in England if you’re a large retailer. If you don’t, you could be fined.
From 21 March 2020, you do not need to charge for bags used in online grocery deliveries until 21 September 2020. This temporary change to the charge applies to England only.
A large retailer employs 250 or more full-time equivalent employees (in total and not just in retail roles) in a year.
You must charge if you:
- sell goods in England
- deliver goods to England
As a retailer:
- the charge is for non-reusable bags (single use plastic carrier bags)
- you must charge for bags used for collections and deliveries
- you don’t need to charge an extra 5p if you’re already charging 5p or more for bags
If you’re a small or medium-sized business, you can charge and follow the scheme voluntarily. You don’t have to report or keep records for carrier bag use.
Bags you charge for
You must charge a minimum of 5p a bag (including VAT) for single use plastic carrier bags that are all of the following:
- unused - it’s new and hasn’t 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 isn’t 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.
Charging for deliveries and click-and-collect bags
From 21 March 2020, you do not need to charge for plastic bags used for online food deliveries until 21 September 2020. However, you can continue to do so or reintroduce the charge before 21 September 2020. You should continue to charge for bags used for all the other online deliveries, click and collect or collect in store orders.
This temporary measure has been taken to help protect the health and safety of customers and delivery drivers and speed up deliveries during the COVID-19 outbreak.
If you choose to continue charging, the number of bags used isn’t always known until delivery takes place. This means you can charge for an average number of bags for multi-bag deliveries, as long as 5p or more is charged per bag overall.
This is a temporary measure for the COVID-19 outbreak. This page will be updated if the end date changes.
Bags you’re not required to charge for
Some bags are exempt - you don’t have to charge for these, but can if you want to.
You don’t 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 5p charge for:
- woven plastic bags
- multiple reuse bags (bags for life), when replacing free of charge, if originally sold for 5p or more
You can still charge for these bags but you don’t 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 5p or more
- suitable for reuse
- replaced free of charge if returned to you when worn out
Food and plants
From 21 March 2020, you do not need to charge for bags used in online grocery deliveries until 21 September 2020.
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
- bulbs, corms or rhizomes (roots, stems and shoots, such as ginger).
- goods contaminated by soil (like potatoes or plants)
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:
- for goods in transport, such as at an airport, plane or ship
- 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.
(The first reporting period - for the first 6 months of the scheme - ran from 5 October 2015 to 6 April 2016.)
Work out your number of employees
On the first day of the reporting year calculate how many full-time equivalent employees you have:
- Work out how many hours a full-time employee would work in a year (for example 40 hours by 52 weeks is 2,080).
- Multiply this by the amount of full-time workers there for the full year (for example 200 workers by 2,080 is 416,000).
- 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).
- Add the full-time and part-time or seasonal workers’ hours together (for example 416,000 plus 120,000 is 536,000).
- 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, then you must charge for bags.
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 don’t 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 charge
- 2 stores with 15 employees - you don’t have to charge
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 2015 to 6 April 2016 until 31 May 2019. You can be fined if you don’t.
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
You will not have to report on bags used for online grocery deliveries until 21 September 2020.
Report your records
The deadline for submitting your records is 31 May 2020.
If you’re a large retailer, you must report on the period from 7 April 2019 to 6 April 2020 or you could be fined.
Small or medium businesses were given the opportunity to voluntarily submit records on the period from 7 April 2019 to 6 April 2020.
Email Defra at PlasticBagCharge@defra.gov.uk for more information about carrier bags policy.
The data retailers submit will be published as Open Government Data under the Open Government Licence.
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 can’t include existing costs, such as the cost of the bags.
Replying to public enquiries
Members of the public can ask you for copies of your single use plastic carrier bag records. You must provide copies within 28 days of the request.
Dealing with 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 £146.2 million for good causes
- the seven 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.
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 don’t 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 can’t 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.
|Not charging for bags appropriately||£200|
|Not keeping records||£100|
|Not supplying records||£100|
|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
- 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.
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.
You can also get artwork explaining the charges to use in your shop or store.