The terms "Bedroom Tax" and "Mansion Tax" have been very popular in the UK of late – spurred on by the latest proposals to alter benefit payments depending on how efficiently occupied a recipient's house is.
More recently, the leader of the opposition Ed Miliband has been proposing a "Mansion Tax" (conveniently applying to homes over 2 million pounds – when his home in Primrose Hill is reportedly valued at 1.6 million pounds)
The bedroom tax is not technically a tax as such* – more a media term to sell newspapers and instil some outrage from the public – which for all intents and purposes, it certainly has.
Having said that, these are just two of the more tame taxes to be considered or introduced – looking back at taxes relating to property and day-to-day living, there are some real corkers - some of which subsequently produced some very inventive loopholes for evasion.
*(A tax is something that generates revenue for the government, the bedroom tax is set to reduce payments to those claiming benefits and is not applied to the entire home owning populous – so it won't generate any revenue)
During the reign of Charles II a hearth tax (fireplace or stove) was introduced (1662-1689) to make up the shortfall in running the monarchy at the time. Basically a tax was to be paid on the number of fireplaces, stoves or hearths that were in any given property.
Whilst like most taxes it probably made sense at the time it created its fair share of problems with adjacent houses and business knocking through walls to share fireplaces which occasionally would lead to one or many properties being burnt to the ground as a result.
Love an open fire? There's a tax for that!
Introduced during the reign of William III the window tax (1696 - 1851) was exactly what it sounds like – if you had windows in your building, you would be taxed. The ever resourceful DIY'ers and handymen of the day evaded the tax by simply bricking up windows.
Although likely one of those "genius" moments at the time, the reduction in natural light and the benefits gained from it led to a rapid demise in the health of the nation, often cited as a "tax on light and air"
One problem with bricking up windows was not being able to see the tax man coming...
Apparently not content with just window tax, a tax on candles was introduced in 1709 (presumably to ensure the poor really were kept in the dark) which remained in place until 1831 – after which the candle industry boomed allowing the myriad of novelty candles on the market today.
In 1709, birthdays suddenly got a little more expensive
From 1784 to 1850 there was a tax on bricks – again, industry responded, this time by simply producing larger bricks meaning less bricks would be needed to build the same building.
The government responded by placing a limit on the size of bricks, as a result a few brick manufacturers went bust and the tax was eventually repealed as builders began to use less bricks, favouring wood and other non-taxed building materials.
Tax on bricks you say? Take that tax man!
All too often when something is invented that gains popularity with the masses it isn't long before the taxman turns up with his hand out. Wallpaper of all things received the same treatment. The earliest known use of wallpaper in the UK is reportedly in 1509, but by the time 1712 rolled around it was deemed sufficiently popular to warrant the taxman getting in on the action.
Industry again found loopholes – this time by using plain non-patterned paper and then stencilling the pattern on later – as usual the government responded (perhaps a little excessively) by adding the crime of "falsification of wallpaper stamps" to the list of offences punishable by death in 1806.
Despite its repeal 200 years ago, there could still be a good arguement for a tax on wallpaper...
In what one can only assume was a moment of madness, Henry VIII thought levying taxes on beards might be a wheeze – introducing a beard tax in 1535, (presumably for the length of his reign) which was reintroduced by his daughter Elizabeth I from 1558-1603.
The Russians took the whole thing a step further in 1705 with Peter the Great issuing "Beard Tokens" that were to be carried by those that had paid up to officially declare they had paid their beard tax.
Beard tokens - mandatory for Russian beard-growers of the day
A tax on hats was all the rage from 1784 to 1811 as a way to raise cash for the government with it being deemed the wealthy would likely own many more and much fancier hats than the poor. Hatters (mad or otherwise) and retailers were required to pay a licence fee, and substantial fines were issued to owners and wearers that possessed hats without the relevant stamps.
It would appear that whilst avoidance ranked high on the list of punishable crimes for evasion – the death penalty was reserved only for those that falsified hat tax revenue stamps
Sadly, only if the tax stamp was falsified in this hat would you incur the death penalty
In 1711 an epic 142 year taxation stinker began with a tax on soap which turned out to be a nice little earner for the government at the time at a rate of 1 penny for pound of soap produced. It was eventually repealed in 1853 by William Gladstone with a percentage revenue loss equivalent to that raised by alcohol duty for 2011/12.
Tax men of the day were known to knock on shower doors of potential evaders
Whilst one can only hope that the taxes of old are not reintroduced any time soon, as history shows, virtually nothing can escape the tax mans wrath.
Are you an expat working abroad? Know your tax liabilities
Investments in different countries? Making a will and reducing the inheritance tax headache
- Friday 15 February 2013