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Carrier bag charges to increase to 10 pence from 21 May 2021

07 May 2021. Published by Henry Priestley, Partner and Ellie Ward, Associate

As trailed in the latest edition of Retail Compass, the Government has been planning to increase the minimum charge of single-use carrier bags.

The Government has now updated its guidance on carrier bag charges which can be found here (the "Guidance"). The Guidance provides that the minimum charge for single-use carrier bags will increase to 10 pence and will be extended to all retailers in England from 21 May 2021. This includes retailers of any size (large, medium, small, micro and even airport retailers) which sell goods in or deliver goods to England. Any 'large' retailers (i.e. retailers with over 250 employees) must also keep records and report on carrier bag use. This year, such records (for the period from 7 April 2020 to 6 April 2021) must be submitted by 31 May 2021. 

The Guidance details bags which are exempt from the charges which includes returnable bags, bags for life and plastic bags which are used solely for certain products (such as prescription medicine and uncooked meat and poultry).

The Guidance also details the fines that retailers could face if they fail to comply with the requirements. For example, any retailers failing to charge for bags appropriately could be fined up to £5,000. Retailers could also be fined up to £5,000 for not keeping records, up to £5,000 for not supplying records and up to £20,000 for giving false or misleading information to, or otherwise obstructing or failing to assist the local authority. A fine may be increased by 50% if the retailer fails to make payment within 56 days. 

Once reasonable costs have been deducted, the Government expects retailers to donate all proceeds to good causes, particularly environmental causes. Whilst such donations are commendable, it seems to us that reinvestment of all or part of the proceeds into a retailer's own sustainability initiatives could also be a worthy use of the monies, consistent with the general purpose of the charges but the Guidance does not suggest this. A missed opportunity perhaps.

Our Spring edition of Retail Compass provides details of other measures that the Government is taking to reduce plastic waste, such as the introduction of plastic packaging tax and fines for selling single-use plastic, such as straws.