Trading advice from several sources is available to help businesses comply with the law.
The Health and Safety Executive website has advice on:
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In the guide
Large retailers are required to charge for most new single-use carrier bags they supply
This guidance is for England
Under the Single Use Carrier Bags Charges (England) Order 2015 all large retailers are required to charge a minimum of 5p for every new single-use carrier bag they supply, although there are exemptions.
The Order only applies to goods sold (and put into bags) in England. All large retailers that supply new single-use carrier bags at a place in England in order to allow goods sold to be taken away, and any retailer that supplies single-use carrier bags in England with the purpose of enabling goods sold to be delivered to any person in England, are subject to this Order.
The rationale behind the charge is to try and substantially reduce the amount of single-use carrier bags being supplied, used and thrown away in England. All bags use energy and create emissions to produce. Plastic bags can take hundreds of years to decompose and discarded bags result in unsightly litter, which can be harmful to animals and the environment.
It is hoped that small changes to customer habits will promote sustainability and that the money collected by retailers as a result of the minimum charge will be passed on to good causes in England, which will in turn benefit the local community and the environment.
It should be noted that similar charges exist in other parts of the United Kingdom but the legislation differs slightly between countries. Retailers that supply goods in single-use carrier bags to other parts of the UK should familiarise themselves with the applicable regional legislation to avoid non-compliance.
Note: due to the coronavirus pandemic, there is a temporary exemption from the requirement to charge for bags used in online grocery deliveries; this exemption lasts until 21 September 2020 (see 'Exemptions' below for more information).
Single-use carrier bag: definition
All types of new single-use carrier bag made of lightweight plastic material (less than 70 microns), with handles, must be subject to a minimum charge of 5p (including VAT) when supplied new for the first time to carry goods, as described above.
Failing to charge for single-use carrier bags in accordance with the Order without reasonable cause may constitute a breach of this Order.
Retailers can choose to charge more than 5p per bag; this is the minimum charge. It is a commercial decision for the retailer whether or not they wish to charge for bags that would otherwise be exempt from the minimum charge.
Customers should be aware that they are under no obligation to buy bags from the retailer; they can of course bring their own bags to reuse or decline bags for delivery.
Unlike in other parts of the UK, this Order only relates to sellers that have 250 contracted employees at the start of the reporting year. This figure is based on the number of full-time equivalent employees a seller has, calculated as follows: TH/37.5 where TH is the total number of hours per week for which all the employees of the business are contracted to work.
Businesses that have fewer than 250 contracted employees at the start of the reporting year are exempt from the requirements to charge for bags in England, although charges may be required if new single-use carrier bags are used to deliver goods into other parts of the UK.
Businesses that are exempt from the Order due to the number of FTE employees they have may still charge for single-use carrier bags voluntarily.
The supply of certain single-use carrier bags are exempt from the minimum charge; see details of these exemptions below:
A temporary exemption for online food deliveries has been introduced during the coronavirus (COVID-19) pandemic; it lasts until 21 September 2020. You still need to charge for click-and-collect or collect-in-store orders, as well as for non-food products.
Sellers are required to keep accurate records of the number of single-use carrier bags that they supply in each reporting year (the reporting year runs from 7 April to 6 April the following year).
These records must include:
'Reasonable costs' include costs reasonably incurred by the seller to comply with this legislation and to communicate information about the charge to customers; it might include, for example, obtaining legal advice, staff training and providing customer notices about the charge.
The seller must keep the aforementioned records for a period of three years beginning 31 May in the reporting year following that to which the record relates and must supply a copy to the Secretary of State. The Secretary of State will in turn publish these records. The records must be submitted electronically via the Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs' dedicated Carrier Bags Charge Reporting Portal.
Sellers must make their records available during the three-year period and they can be requested in writing by any person; written requests must be satisfied within 28 days of receipt.
Businesses seeking further information should contact their local authority. The Order will normally be administered by officers of the trading standards service.
Guidance from the Department for the Environment, Food and Rural Affairs on retailers' responsibilities is available on the GOV.UK website.
Failure to comply with trading standards law can lead to enforcement action and to sanctions, which may include a fine and/or imprisonment. For more information please see 'Trading standards: powers, enforcement and penalties'.
Last reviewed / updated: April 2020
In this update
Information added about the temporary exemption due to the coronavirus outbreak
This information is intended for guidance; only the courts can give an authoritative interpretation of the law.
The guide's 'Key legislation' links may only show the original version of the legislation, although some amending legislation is linked to separately where it is directly related to the content of a guide. Information on amendments to legislation can be found on each link's 'More Resources' tab.
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