Women's sanitary products (VAT Notice 701/18)

Find out which sanitary protection products you can supply at the zero rate of VAT.


This notice cancels and replaces Notice 701/18 (July 2011).

A background section has been added at paragraph 1.3 which explains the previous tax treatment of these products and why the rate was reduced.

Section 3 of this notice entitled ‘calculating the VAT due on women’s sanitary products (WSPs)’ is only relevant for supplies which occurred before the change in rate came in to force when WSPs were taxable at the reduced rate (5%).

1. Overview

1.1 This notice

This notice explains which WSPs may be supplied at the zero rate of VAT from 1 January 2021 (as outlined in Group of Schedule 8 to the Value Added Tax Act 1994).

1.2 Who should read this notice

Use this notice if you’re a manufacturer, wholesaler or retailer of WSPs, including those responsible for accounting for VAT on sales made from vending machines.

1.3 Background

At Budget 2020, the government announced that from 1 January 2021 WSPs would be subject to the zero-rate of VAT.

The Finance Act 2016 commits the Government to introduce a zero rate of VAT for WSPs on “the earliest date that may be appointed consistently with the United Kingdom’s EU obligations.” This legal obligation arose when the transition period ended on 31 December 2020. Before this date sales of WSP products were subject to the reduced rate of VAT (5%).

2. Products and rates

2.1 Products you can sell at the zero VAT rate

The zero rate applies to the supply of any sanitary protection product that is designed and marketed solely for the absorption or collection of menstrual flow or lochia (discharge from the womb following childbirth). Examples include:

  • sanitary towels
  • sanitary pads
  • panty liners that are not designed as incontinence products
  • sanitary belts for use with looped towels or pads
  • tampons
  • keepers (internal devices for the collection of menstrual flow)
  • maternity pads for the collection of lochia

If you are a retailer or a distributor and you are in any doubt whether a product is designed solely for the absorption or collection of menstrual flow or lochia, you should contact the manufacturer of the product for clarification.

2.2 Types of sanitary protection products that are excluded from the zero rate

The zero rate does not apply to any product that is not designed and marketed solely for the absorption or collection of menstrual flow or lochia. Items that do not qualify for the zero rate include:

  • incontinence products
  • clothing or sanitary accessories
  • dual-purpose products designed to protect against both menstrual flow and incontinence

2.3 Panty liners

Panty liners designed for sanitary protection, but marketed as also suitable for protection against light incontinence or light feminine discharges, are eligible for supply at the zero rate. Panty liners designed primarily as incontinence products are not eligible for the zero rate, but may qualify for a separate VAT relief.

2.4 When VAT relief is available on incontinence products

Incontinence pads are not eligible for sale at the zero rate under this relief. Incontinence pads and other specially designed incontinence products (including clothing) may qualify to be zero-rated under a separate relief. Further details can be found in Reliefs from VAT for disabled and older people (VAT Notice 701/7).

2.5 Clothing designed for use with sanitary protection products

Items of clothing, such as disposable or protective pants or briefs that either hold sanitary protection in place or protect the wearer from leakage, are not eligible for the zero rate. Certain items of children’s clothing may be zero-rated under a separate relief. Young children’s clothing and footwear (VAT Notice 714) provides further details.

3. Calculating the VAT due on sanitary products

As of the 1 January 2021 VAT will be charged at the zero-rate on supplies of WSPs. The following information is therefore only relevant for supplies which occurred before the change in rate came in to force when WSPs were taxable at the reduced rate (5%).

3.1 Invoiced sales

If you manufacture or distribute sanitary protection products, you should ensure that your accounting systems can distinguish between goods sold at the standard, reduced and zero rates of VAT. Separate summary totals should be produced for supplies at each VAT rate, and these totals should be posted to your VAT account. Detailed guidance on record keeping and the VAT account can be found in VAT guide (VAT Notice 700).

3.2 Retail sales

Retailers are required to use one of the VAT retail schemes to calculate the value of their supplies at each rate of VAT. Detailed guidance on retail schemes can be found in the following notices:

The relevant notice for each retail scheme contains a step-by-step guide to calculating the VAT that has been charged on sales subject to different rates.

3.3 How to calculate VAT contained within a tax-inclusive price

If you need to calculate the VAT included within a price, you can do this by applying the appropriate ‘VAT fraction’ to the total tax inclusive price. These are the relevant VAT fractions:

Rate of VAT VAT fraction
Goods sold at the standard rate of VAT (20%) 1/6
Goods sold at the reduced rate of VAT (5%) 1/21

3.4 Sales from vending machines

If you operate machines that dispense products at different rates of VAT and are unable to identify your total sales at each rate, you should apportion your sales income using a fair and reasonable method. You may, for example, calculate the sales at each rate of VAT with reference to the number of refills made for each item within the relevant period. Where appropriate, you should agree an apportionment method with HMRC. Further details concerning methods of apportionment can be found in VAT guide (VAT Notice 700).

Your rights and obligations

Read Your Charter to find out what you can expect from HM Revenue and Customs and what we expect from you.

Help us improve this notice

If you have any feedback about this notice please email:

You’ll need to include the full title of this notice. Do not include any personal or financial information like your VAT number.

If you need general help with this notice or have another VAT question you should phone our VAT helpline or make a VAT enquiry online.

Putting things right

If you’re unhappy with HMRC’s service, contact the person or office you’ve been dealing with and they’ll try to put things right.

If you’re still unhappy, find out how to complain to HMRC.

How HMRC uses your information

Find out how HMRC uses the information we hold about you.

Published 4 July 2011
Last updated 4 January 2021 + show all updates
  1. Information about the zero rate of VAT has been added.

  2. This page has been updated because the Brexit transition period has ended.

  3. First published.