5p Bags – The Law!


As I’ve mentioned many times, I work in retail and the bane of any shop assistants existence is the 5p bag law.

For anyone not from the UK , who by some chance doesn’t know abut this,  on the 5th October 2015 (yes nearly a year ago) a new law was issued in England stating that all large retailers had to charge 5p for one time use carrier bags.

It’s now nearly a year later and yet people are still complaining about this. I encountered two people who weren’t happy about it today.

While sat on my till serving a lady, she suddenly decided to moan about the bag charge. I gave the usual response that I have to give at least twice a week. “Unfortunately it’s not our doing we have to charge by law,” and that’s when things went down hill.

The lady decided to inform me that it’s not the law and the company didn’t have to charge.

I’m sorry? did I blink and miss something? because I’m pretty sure there was a big thing about this all over the TV, newspapers and social media telling everyone about this new law when it was implemented.

I calmly explained to the woman the rules about how a company our size had to charge and this seemed to be the cue for the customer behind her to jump in with his ever so helpful comment. “You can’t charge because the bag has your store name on it. We are advertising for you!”

This is, in fact, wrong, and I calmly informed the customer of this but he refused to accept it, so I did what any cashier would do… I decided to offload the complaining people on the manager. However, the customers insisted it didn’t matter because the managers wouldn’t be able to do anything and it’s all down to the head office.

So I offered them head offices phone number. To which they replied that they couldn’t be bothered to waste their time calling them. Though, they were perfectly happy to waste it complaining to me.

This is one of the most infuriating things a sales person has to deal with, so thought I would lay the law down, plainly and simply. If just one person sees it and doesn’t complain to a poor unsuspecting salesperson about their bag charge, it will be worth it.

These are actual facts obtained from the government website, not facebook, twitter or any other social media outlet:

  • You must charge at least 5p for single-use carrier bags in England from 5 October 2015 if you’re a large retailer.
  • A large retailer means you employ 250 or more full-time equivalent employees (in total and not just in retail roles) in a year.

    Food and plants

    You’re not required to charge for plastic bags that are for:

    • uncooked fish and fish products
    • uncooked meat, poultry and their products
    • unwrapped food for animal or human consumption – eg chips, or food in containers that aren’t secure enough to prevent leakage during handling
    • unwrapped loose seeds
    • flowers
    • bulbs, corms or rhizomes (roots, stems and shoots, such as ginger).
    • goods contaminated by soil (like potatoes or plants)


You’re not required to charge for bags:

  • for unwrapped blades, including axes, knives, and knife and razor blades
  • for prescription medicine
  • used for a service, but there is no sale of goods, eg dry cleaning

Now, onto the suggestion, it is illegal to sell a bag with the retailer’s name on it.

I can not find any legal information to back this up. I can, however, find plenty to dispute it. Firstly let me point out that Scotland and wales have had the 5p bag law for four years before it was implemented in England and a number of high street shops have been charging for years. If it was, in fact, illegal to charge for a bag with your brand on it surely it would have been pointed out long before now. Also, considering the law has now been in effect for more than a year. If it is true, why isn’t every shop in the country who charge currently fighting legal battles from disgruntled customers?

Let’s just be honest and admit this is a load of rubbish.


Now I know there is lots of dispute about how much is charged and where the money goes. That changes from company to company and that is not what this post is about.

My point is. No matter where the money goes, If the company is big enough they must charge. It is the law and the only way anyone can change that is to complain to the government.

So next time you feel the need to moan about the bag charge please remember the retail workers have no say in it. We are doing as we are told. If we were to ignore the law, that nice person who is still smiling at you behind the counter, despite your complaining, is the one who would get the fine that can be anything up to £5000.

Your fight is with the government, not us.

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