Health Minister Simon Harris called on the Finance Minister Paschal Donohoe to bring the VAT rate on condoms and menstrual cups to 0%. Shutterstock

Harris wants VAT removed on condoms and menstrual cups

Currently,13.5% VAT applies to condoms, but the minister wants this brought down to 0%.

HEALTH MINISTER SIMON Harris wants VAT removed from condoms and menstrual cups. 

The minister called for a review of Ireland’s tax approach on these products ahead of last year’s Budget, but no changes were made. 

It is understood Harris’ position has not changed on the issue since last year, and will be calling for VAT on such products to be scrapped in this October’s Budget. 

Currently, the reduced rate of VAT of 13.5% applies to condoms, but the minister wants this brought down to 0%.

Such a call would be supported by the Irish Pharmacy Union, which has also called for condoms to be VAT-free.

A pack of 12 condoms currently retails between €13 – €20, depending on the brand and type. 

Contraceptive gels for use in conjunction with barrier methods of contraception also have a 13.5% rate applied.

Other contraceptive products such as the oral contraceptive pill, as well as other medical equipment and contraceptive appliances such as the implant or injection have 0% VAT.

In a letter from Harris to Finance Minister Paschal Donohoe, the health minister said that in light of the work ongoing to reduce the number of women with crisis pregnancies the VAT rates “runs contrary to our work for people to practice safer sex and avoid crisis pregnancies and STIs”.

The letter, which was released under the Freedom of Information Act, states that the aim of the Sexual Health Strategy is to “improve sexual health and well being and to reduce negative sexual health outcomes”.

Harris writes in the letter to the finance minister that the cost of condoms could prevent people from buying them. 

In line with these, our policy actively encourages people who are thinking of having sex or are sexually active, to think ahead, access correct information and to practice safer sex.
It continues to focus on the importance of using condoms and other forms of contraception to protect against Sexually Transmitted Infections (STIs) – including HIV – and as a form of contraception.

While he said that consumer expenditure is widely subject to VAT, Harris argued that “there is a strong case for excluding non-oral contraception from this tax”.

Such a tax may inevitably discourage people from purchasing non-oral contraception due to cost concerns. This runs contrary to our work for people to practise safer sex and avoid crisis pregnancies and STIs. Both of these outcomes have a negative impact on the people concerned and their immediate family.

He also pointed out that that such choices around cost could the health service in the long run due to the “cost involved in treating people who, for example, contract HIV”.

Harris has also called for the VAT rate on some newer sanitary products to be reduced to 0% also.

Currently, a VAT rate of 23% applies to products such as menstrual cups.

“I understand also that tampons and sanitary towels are subject to 0% VAT. I know that as part of VAT harmonisation agreements reached with the EU in the 1990s, the Irish 0% VAT rate on these products was retained.

“The issue that now needs attention is the position with newer products. Newer products (e.g. menstrual cups) that were not available at the time of these agreements are subject to the standard rate of VAT 23%.

“There is a cogent argument for removing VAT on these and any newer sanitary products and aligning them with the zero-percent VAT rate applicable to tampons and sanitary towels,” he said.

The call for reform is part of the minister’s challenge to overhaul the cost and availability of contraception in Ireland. 

Earlier this year, the government announced that it wanted to increase the availability of free contraception such as condoms in a bid to reduce crisis pregnancies.

The minister said he also plans to reduce the cost of the morning-after pill or perhaps make it free for all women.

The morning-after pill can cost between €15- €50.

Last Monday, Harris announced that condoms would be distributed across third level colleges in the final months of the year.

A public consultation is currently underway on how to increase access to contraception. 

Harris established a working group to consider the policy, regulatory and legislative issues relating to better access to contraception earlier this year. The group is due to report back ahead of October’s Budget.   

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