Hearth Tax 1662 - 1688

The Hearth Tax was introduced in Britain by King Charles II on November 19th, 1662 as a means of replenishing the nation's depleted coffers.

It was, literally, a tax upon hearths: A charge of 1 shilling was levied twice a year for each fire hearth in a house, (the idea presumably being that the more fireplaces a house had, the more wealthy the occupants were). Payments were due on Lady day and Michaelmas.

It is important to note that the occupiers of the house were liable for this tax, not the owners. In an effort to avoid penalising the less well off, people who were exempt from paying local 'Church' and 'Poor' Rates were also exempt from the Hearth Tax. Similarly, those occupants of low value houses or with a low annual income were also exempt, although they were required to register for the tax and obtain an exemption certificate.

The tax law was revised shortly after its introduction to take into account the number of chimneys a house had. It was also decided that landlords would be liable to pay the hearth tax on behalf of low income tenants.

As you can imagine, the Hearth Tax was seen as unfair by most people, (nothing new there, then). As a means of raising revenue for the Crown, it wasn't particularly efficient either - for large periods of its lifetime, responsibility for assessing and collecting tax was given to private tax collectors, who payed a fixed amount for this privilege and were not required to submit collection returns to the Exchequer.

Due to inefficiencies in collection, widespread evasion and concerns over peoples rights to privacy, (collectors had the right to enter your home and count the number of fireplaces), the tax was abolished in 1689 by William III, who was then King.

The Hearth Tax was not a total disaster, however. It unwittingly acted as a form of census and gives valuable historical insight into how people in Britain lived in that period. As I mentioned above, the tax was levied on the home occupier. The number of fireplaces a house had roughly correlated to the income, and social standing, of its occupants. The laws governing the tax required that details such as the value of the house and the annual income of its occupants be collected, and even people of low income had to be assessed in order to obtain a certificate of exemption.

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