taxcxc 820x410 - The history and origination of the Hearth tax policy in England

The history and origination of the Hearth tax policy in England

Hearth tax, when it was introduced, was a revolutionary policy in terms of scope and implementation. Most of us British citizens aren’t aware of such a historic tax policy that shaped the modern policy process. With tax always a complicated matter, governments and officials always like to keep a track of historic successes and failures.

There were some precedents to the hearth tax policy. Prior to 1662, tax collection was done by the royal crown and wasn’t very uniform from what is known to us today. Uniformity and process scheduling were two aspects that the hearth tax system brought about. But what does it all really mean?

Basically, hearth tax means – a tax on every hearth and stove present in each home in Great Britain. The reason for the emergence of this policy was, as is similar with most cases, a shortfall in government revenue. A shortfall that was so severe that an overhaul of the property tax regime was considered.

taxx - The history and origination of the Hearth tax policy in England

The British parliament in 1662 was looking to raise an annual revenue of GBP 1.2 million through tax policies. As a result, it decided to tax every citizen a fixed amount; the very definition of tax today. Citizens whose property’s worth was less than 20 shillings would pay 1 shilling annually for each hearth they possessed, whereas citizens with more than 20 shillings worth of property would pay 2 shillings annually for each hearth they possessed.

Additionally, this was the first time private tax collectors were employed to handle the administrative complexity of the policy. Under the new tax regime, tax could be collected up to twice in a year, something that wasn’t the case before. Documents for tax purposes were structured, fixed and categorized into two categories – assessment and returns, and exemption certificates.

The hearth tax policy led to a radical shift in the assessment, calculation, administration and collection of tax. Modern Britain still imbibes traces of the forgotten policy in its tax policies.

One comment

  1. I’m afraid you are incorrect about some elements of the hearth tax 1662-89. First of all, where it applied to: not Great Britain. It was introduced in England in 1662, but was only passed by the Scottish Parliament in 1690 (abolished 1695), the year after it had been abolished in England. In Ireland, however, it continued into the early 19th century. Secondly who administered the English tax? No simple answer here; there were 6 different administrations ranging from the usual county officials (JP sheriff etc) in the early years through tax farmers and government commissions. Thirdly, occupiers of houses (rather than owners) paid 2 shillings per annum on each of their hearths to be collected in two instalments -Lady Day(March) and Michaelmas (Sept). Householders whose properties were rented at (not worth) under 20 shillings per annum were exempt – they paid nothing. My name is Dr Catherine Ferguson and I’m a Senior Research Fellow at Roehampton University and General Editor of the British Academy Hearth Tax Project books. I’m delighted you are interested in the hearth tax. If you would like to know more you can email me or see the webpage https://www.roehampton.ac.uk/research-centres/centre-for-hearth-tax-research/

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