Figures from charity Bloody Good Period, show that it costs an average of £4,800 to have ‘safe and comfortable’ periods over a lifetime. It’s no surprise then that according to Plan International UK, one in ten girls can’t afford sanitary products and one in five has had to switch product because of cost. So, here’s how you can access free tampons and pads and save money using alternatives like reusable sanitary products.
Where can I get free sanitary products?
If you live in Scotland, you should have access to free sanitary products. It’s the only country in the world (currently) that provides free products to anyone who needs them. It’s up to local councils and some public services to distribute them, but you should also be able to get them from your school.
In the rest of the UK, sanitary products are available free of charge at state-funded schools and colleges via the government’s period product scheme. But you’ll need to be between 16 and 19 to be eligible for them. You should have access to a range of disposable and reusable sanitary products including pads, tampons and menstrual cups.
If you’re over 19, you can still claim free products if you have an EHC (education, health and care plan) or if you’re on a course that you started at 16.
Only 40% of schools and colleges have signed up to the scheme, which means thousands of young people are missing out. If your school is one of the 60% not on board, you can find out more at gov.uk, period products.
Hospital in-patients can also get free sanitary products on request.
But if you don’t live in Scotland, aren’t at school or in hospital, and you can’t afford sanitary products, there are several organisations that supply food banks with pads and tampons. Your local council should have details about how you can get help. You can also call the Trussell Trust on 0808 208 2138.
Do you pay VAT on sanitary products?
Not anymore. The UK government removed the 5% VAT tax on sanitary products on 1 January 2021.
While 5% might not seem much in monetary terms, for the 42% of girls forced to improvise with toilet tissue or the 7% who have used newspaper, socks or other fabric while menstruating, it’s recognition that sanitary products are necessities and most definitely not luxuries.
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How can I save money on sanitary products?
Even with the abolition of VAT on sanitary products, periods can be expensive. Here are some tips that can help you cut the cost.
Buy own-brand products
Lots of us have preferences that we’ve tried and tested, but switching from branded to non-branded items can save you a small fortune. For example:
- ASDA regular applicator tampons cost just 80p for 20 compared to the Tampax equivalent at £2 for 18.
- Tesco regular sanitary towels with wings cost 66p for 14 compared to Always Ultra with wings at £1.50 for 14.
Use a price comparison site
Comparison sites aren’t just for insurance. You can compare the price of tampons and sanitary towels at sanitarysaver.co.uk.
Track your period
Knowing when you’ll be on can help you plan, which means you could save money by buying what you need in advance instead of panic buying at the last minute.
If you’re like clockwork, a calendar will do the job. If you like tech, there are plenty of apps to choose from, including Clue, Flo and Period Tracker. And now that we’re (sort of) allowed out and about, remember to keep spares in your bag.
Buy reusable sanitary products
This won’t be for everyone. There is some initial expense but depending on what you choose, reusables can last a few years, saving you more in the long term. Options include:
- Menstrual cups: a silicone ‘cup’ that collects your period blood. There are all sorts available. Head to putacupinit.com to find out which might suit you. For example, the £24.99 saalt version scores 4.6/5 based on more than 7,700 Amazon reviews.
- Menstrual discs: a disc is similar in concept to a menstrual cup, but it differs in shape and position. Although most discs are only available as disposables, they produce less waste than tampons. One of the few reusables is made by US brand Lumma. You’ll pay $45 (around £32) plus shipping.
- Reusable sanitary pads: they’re like disposables but washable. They’re usually made of sustainable bamboo, which is another plus. You can buy them individually (and choose the backing fabric) at cheekywipes.com, where they cost £4.50 to £5 per pad or £40.95 for a set of ten. Cheaper but equally effective sets are also available from Amazon.
- Period pants: these are essentially pants with built-in absorbency so you don’t need to faff around with pads, cups or discs. That said, you may need to use something else on heavier days. Brands available in the UK include Modibodi, Thinx, Flux at Holland and Barrett, and Innersy at Amazon. Prices vary.
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