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This comic has been circulating heavily on social media:

The world according to the UK government:

  • Men’s razors are taxed as necessities because you need to avoid stubble
  • Women’s sanitary products are taxed as luxuries because you don’t need to avoid getting covered in your own blood

I think the tax on tampons is true but the bit about razors being VAT-free as an essential strikes me as being unlikely. Googling it finds claims from both sides:

I recognise that razors are zero-rated, and judging by many Conservative Members the opportunity to shave every day is a human right. —Stella Creasy MP

Are razors (specifically men's razors if there's any difference) really VAT-free in the UK?

enter image description here

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    "I know the tax on tampons is true" -- It isn't true: they're taxed at a special reduced rate, i.e. at 5% instead of the usual 20%. – ChrisW Apr 1 '15 at 13:44
  • Don't they include the amount of VAT on bills? Go out, buy a razor, and see if, or how much, VAT is there. – user25667 Apr 3 '15 at 12:59
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    @WillemvanRumpt It's usually just included in the marked price. – Studoku Apr 3 '15 at 14:21
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    Your title says "tax-free", your post says "VAT-free", and the picture says "taxed as necessities". Since those are 3 separate things, which one do you really mean? – Gabe Apr 5 '15 at 15:03
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    The second half of the claim is now out of date. The "tampon tax" was the standard rate of 20% on sanitary products, now reduced bbc.co.uk/news/uk-politics-35834142. I don't know if shaving products were ever zero rated in the past. – Paul Johnson Oct 6 '16 at 16:33
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The Value Added Tax in the United Kingdom is based upon the standard rate of 20% as of 4 January 2011. This means that unless something falls into a listed category for a reduced rate or an exemption, then the VAT is 20%.

Based upon a review of the United Kingdom's HM Revenue & Customs listings for VAT rates on different goods and services this claim appears to be false. Currently, women's sanitary protection products are covered by VAT Notice 701/18 which stipulates a VAT rate of 5%. Since there is no listing for razor's in the exemption list that I was able to find we must assume that they would have a VAT rate of 20%.

Additionally, safety razor blades are listed as a commodity subject to a trade tariff, with the following notes:

The commodity code for importing is 8212200000.

Importing from outside the EU is subject to a third country duty of 2.70 %.

Goods are subject to VAT standard rate.

This can be further born out by examining the cost of purchasing razor blades in the United Kingdom for which we see fees such as those with Edwin Jaggar which shows that 10 Personna Platinum DE Razor Blades cost £2.00 or £1.67 (ex. Tax) which corresponds to the VAT rate of 20%.

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    @ChrisW The VAT is kind of weird but basically anything that isn't a category that qualifies for a reduced rate and listed as such is at the standard rate. Thus, unless they explicitly list shaving and grooming products you can assume the standard rate. This is also bore out by UK retailers who tax razors at the standard rate. – rjzii Apr 1 '15 at 13:37
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    I agree but the page you referenced isn't a complete list so it's not good proof that there's no special rate for razor blades. OTOH I looked through gov.uk/government/collections/vat-notices-alphabetical-order, and didn't notice razor blades listed there either. – ChrisW Apr 1 '15 at 13:40
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    @ChrisW Yes, that's the other page that I looked at when preparing the answer. Basically, everything sold in the UK has a VAT of 20% unless explicitly covered by an exemption. So if there is no exemption listed (i.e. VAT Notice 701/18 in the case of sanitary protection) then the VAT is 20%. Also, the retailers are a good measure for this though since overcharging VAT is also illegal. – rjzii Apr 1 '15 at 13:46
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    The claim is false. Specifically: gov.uk/trade-tariff/commodities/8212200000 (an official reference) says of safety razor blades: "Goods are subject to VAT standard rate." – abligh Apr 2 '15 at 7:08
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    @Alexm7b5 That's not how the law works. All items that are taxed at a lower rate in the UK are taxed at a lower rate because of an exemption notice. – Zibbobz Apr 2 '15 at 16:50
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The claim is false.

Specifically, this official reference says of safety razor blades:

Goods are subject to VAT standard rate.

VAT rates are set out here.

I expect the 'grain of truth' is that some aspects of health are VAT exempt (see boxes marked health and healthcare above), for instance dispensed prescriptions and incontinence pads. I expect the logic is that neither sanitary products nor razor blades are to treat a medical condition. Neither, for instance, is toothpaste.

On the other hand, as per the above link, VAT of on sanitary products is at a reduced rate of 5%. This reduced rate of VAT on sanitary products was due to a campaign in culminating 2001 (poor reference). Prior to this VAT on sanitary products was at the normal rate (which from memory was then 17.5% but is now 20%). As far as I can tell the VAT rate on razor blades did not change (save for changes in the general rate of VAT); therefore the claim is unlikely to have been true in the past.

The provisions of what may and may not be at reduced rate VAT are set by the EC, specifically within Article 98 and Annex III of the principal EC VAT directive (2006/112/EC), the relevant section of which says:

pharmaceutical products of a kind normally used for health care, prevention of illnesses and as treatment for medical and veterinary purposes, including products used for contraception and sanitary protection.

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    @LightningRacisinObrit to be fair, VAT is pretty random. They could, for instance, have argued that investing in gold coins, private jets, helicopters, ship repairs, books, newspapers, magazines, brochures, leaflets, pamphlets, and printed music are all (for some reason) VAT exempt (or zero rated, which is very similar) - I don't think anyone could argue they are necessities. Any of the first three would have made a far better case. – abligh Apr 2 '15 at 19:12

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