Carrier Bag Charges from October 2015

If you are a large retailer of over 250 total staff then you must be charging 5p per single usage carrier bag from October 2015 in England.  Wales have been charging for bags since 2011 seeing the numnber of plastic bags used falling by 71%.  The monies raised is set to head to charties in Wales with roughly £20m already being sent to good causes since launch.

Carrier bag charges will be in place in England on the 5th October 2015 as part the Governments policy to reduce waste with an estimated £19m a year in VAT is set to saved by the Treasury from the charges. The Government is also hoping that bag usage will fall by three quarters over the coming years.

Retailer Charges

If you are a large retailer of over 250 total staff then you must be charging 5p per single usage carrier bag.  A full time member of staff who has worked all 12 months counts as 1 employee with partime and seasonal staff along with staff who have not worked a full 12 months are counted as a fraction of 1 employee.

If you are a small or medium sized retailer then you are free to charge voluntarily but you don’t have to make a charge to your customers.  If your business is part of a franchise or symbol group which is a sharing of a brand and products you only will count the number of employees in your part of the business.  You will not count the business as whole.

In order to establish the number of staff that you have within the reporting year, it will run from 5 October 2015 to 6 April 2016, 7 April to 6 April from 2016 and so on.

The definition of a bag is considered as if it has an opening and is not sealed.  The retailer then must charge at least 5p a bag for carrier bags that are all of the following:

  • unused
  • plastic with handles
  • 70 microns thick or less

​If you offer a delivery service you must be offering customers the option for a bagless delivery otherwise a charge will be incurred for the bags.  Remember the number of bags will not be known until delivery takes place so this means that the retailer can charge for an average number of bags for multo-bag deliveries as long as 5p or more is charged per bag overall

Charges of the kind will apply to both home delivery and click and collect collections.

Multiple Usage Bags

A returnable multiple reuse bag must be all of the following

  • sold for 5p or more
  • replaced free of charge if returned to you
  • 50 to 70 microns thick – you can count thinner bags as reusable as long as they’re thicker than your single-use bags and the handles are at least 50 microns thick
  • at least 404mm (in either width or height) by 439mm

You can’t count the following in your bag’s dimensions

  • gussets
  • handles – unless they’re on wavy top bags


There are restrictions on the timing that you will charge for a plastic bag and they are listed below:

  • for uncooked fish and fish products
  • for uncooked meat, poultry and their products
  • for unwrapped food for animal or human consumption – for example, chips, or food sold in containers not secure enough to prevent leakage during normal handling
  • for unwrapped loose seeds, flowers, bulbs, corns, rhizomes (roots, stems and shoots, such as ginger) or goods contaminated by soil (such as potatoes or plants)
  • for unwrapped blades, including axes, knives, and knife and razor blades
  • for prescription medicine
  • for live aquatic creatures in water
  • woven plastic bags
  • for goods in transport, such as at an airport or on a train, plane or ship
  • considered as sealed packaging for mail order and click-and-collect orders (regardless of handles)
  • returnable multiple reuse bags (bags for life)
  • used to give away free promotional material
  • used for a service but there’s no sale of goods, such as dry cleaning or shoe repairs

A bag can contain multiple items from this list and not incur a charge. However, if the bag contains other items then there is a charge. For example, you wouldn’t charge for a bag containing an unwrapped blade and unwrapped loose seeds, but adding a box of cornflakes means you’d have to charge.

Super biodegradable bags

There are no exemptions for biodegradable bags at present. However, the government is considering an exemption to encourage development of a new, genuinely biodegradable, more environmentally friendly bag.

Retailers Guidelines

For every bag that you charge for, you must:

  • charge at least 5p a bag (including any VAT)
  • make every effort to ensure that you are charging for self-checkout bags
  • keep a reporting year’s records for 3 years from 31 May in the following reporting year (eg you must keep the records for 5 October 2015 to 6 April 2016 until 31 May 2019)
  • send records to Defra on or before 31 May following the end of the reporting year

You must also record for the whole reporting year:

  • the number of bags 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

Reasonable costs

Reasonable costs include new costs incurred to comply with the legislation. 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. You’re likely to see reasonable costs significantly reduce after the first year.

Once you have deducted reasonable costs, it is expected that all proceeds will be donated to good causes.

Carrier Bag Charges Wales has examples of how good causes have benefited from the proceeds of the Welsh charge, and expected reductions in carrier bag use.

Who inspects retailers

In most cases it’s the local authority where your shop or store is based that makes sure that the law is being followed.

However, for home deliveries the relevant local authority is the one where the goods are:

  • dispatched from, if sent and delivered within England
  • received, if delivered from outside England

Local authority inspectors can visit stores at reasonable times and make test purchases. They can question staff and demand relevant documentation if they believe a breach has taken place.

When retailers will be fined

Local authority must publish details of fine levels and circumstances on its website. It can fine you if you:

  • don’t charge at least 5p for the appropriate bags
  • don’t keep records
  • don’t supply records
  • mislead on how you’re complying with the law

Local authorities can:

  • issue a non-compliance notice with steps you must take to correct a breach
  • impose a fixed penalty
  • impose a discretionary penalty
  • order you to advertise that you’ve broken the law, what their penalty was and how you are now complying
  • recover the cost of the investigation from you if you breach the law

Both fixed and variable fines are:

  • reduced by 50% if you pay within 28 days
  • increased by 50% if you don’t pay within 56 days

Local authorities can’t impose a variable fine if a fixed fine has already been levied for the same issue (unless a non-compliance notice has been issued).

Local authorities can impose non-monetary requirements, such as making you publicise that you’ve breached the law.

Failure to comply can lead to a fine of up to £5,000, in addition to any other penalties.

You can object within 28 days of being issued a penalty notice.


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