img7 820x410 - 3 key reasons why the hearth tax was unpopular in Britain

3 key reasons why the hearth tax was unpopular in Britain

The hearth tax was a revolutionary policy in the 1600s and set the trend for tax collection and proper recording. While at the institutional level it simplified and made transparent the entire process, the public reception was not very favorable. Read more about the introduction at

At the broader level, the tax system is adept at measuring wealth inequality and taking measures to bring down the levels. The system was fair in its design, as wealthier property owners paid twice as much as the average property owner. Property owners who owned properties worth more than 20 shillings paid 2 shillings in annual tax (10%) whereas the rest paid 1 shilling.

Let us begin by neglecting the most widespread cause of unpopularity, which is that tax evasion was no longer possible. This is not a reason that should at all be factored, as it is every citizen’s duty to pay tax. With transparency and proper recording of tax records, tax evasion could easily be monitored and eradicated.

It was not so much the design and the intent of the tax system, rather the execution and administrative complexities that made it unpopular at the time. The structure allowed the role of private tax collectors, who could enter homes and collect taxes, which were then passed to the crown. However, due to a lack of proper execution, there were cases where tax information was incorrectly passed on.

This happened when tax collected visited homes when people were away. In some cases, they tried to count the number of chimneys in a house from outside in order to determine the number of hearths. This resulted naturally in incorrect counting and wrong tax calculations. This created dissatisfaction and outrage among some sections of the community.

In some other cases, people would deliberately not answer the doors when the tax collectors came, to avoid paying taxes. The same outcomes resulted from such situations, although in this case it is hard to blame execution. You cannot forced someone to enjoy paying taxes!

There were also loopholes that were fully exploited by citizens. For example, in those times it was possible to evade tax by declaring yourself to be poverty-stricken. Such declarations were easily possible by downgrading to a home worth very less, which would indicate that you are poor. These was no comprehensive check on all means of finances at the time.

The situation could have been tackled in various ways, mainly by proper communication. When the tax was introduced, the full disclosure of what the tax revenue will be used for, and what kind of future benefits it could produce to the very same citizens that pay up initially, would have resulted in relatively more willingness to pay taxes. These are lessons for the future.

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