Poll tax (Great Britain)
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The Community Charge, commonly known as the poll tax, was a system of taxation introduced by
Margaret Thatcher Margaret Hilda Thatcher, Baroness Thatcher (; 13 October 19258 April 2013) was Prime Minister of the United Kingdom from 1979 to 1990 and Leader of the Conservative Party (UK), Leader of the Conservative Party from 1975 to 1990. S ...
's government in replacement of domestic rates in
Scotland Scotland (, ) is a Countries of the United Kingdom, country that is part of the United Kingdom. Covering the northern third of the island of Great Britain, mainland Scotland has a Anglo-Scottish border, border with England to the southeast ...
from 1989, prior to its introduction in
England England is a Countries of the United Kingdom, country that is part of the United Kingdom. It shares land borders with Wales to its west and Scotland to its north. The Irish Sea lies northwest and the Celtic Sea to the southwest. It is separa ...
and
Wales Wales ( cy, Cymru ) is a Countries of the United Kingdom, country that is part of the United Kingdom. It is bordered by England to the Wales–England border, east, the Irish Sea to the north and west, the Celtic Sea to the south west and the ...
from 1990. It provided for a single flat-rate, per-capita tax on every adult, at a rate set by the local authority. The charge was replaced by
Council Tax Council Tax is a taxation, local taxation system used in England, Scotland and Wales. It is a Property tax, tax on domestic property, which was introduced in 1993 by the Local Government Finance Act 1992, replacing the short-lived Poll tax (Grea ...
in 1993, two years after its abolition was announced.


Origins

The abolition of the rating system of taxes (based on the notional rental value of a house) to fund
local government Local government is a generic term for the lowest tiers of public administration within a particular sovereign state. This particular usage of the word government refers specifically to a level of administration that is both geographically-loca ...
had been unveiled by
Margaret Thatcher Margaret Hilda Thatcher, Baroness Thatcher (; 13 October 19258 April 2013) was Prime Minister of the United Kingdom from 1979 to 1990 and Leader of the Conservative Party (UK), Leader of the Conservative Party from 1975 to 1990. S ...
when she was Shadow Environment Secretary in 1974, and was included in the manifesto of the Conservative Party in the October 1974 general election. In the 1979 elections the Conservative manifesto stated that lowering income tax took priority. The Government published a
green paper In the United Kingdom, the Commonwealth of Nations, Commonwealth countries, Hong Kong, the United States and the European Union, a green paper is a tentative government report and consultation document of policy proposals for debate and discussion ...
in 1981 under the title ''Alternatives to Domestic Rates''. It considered a flat-rate per-capita tax as a supplement to another tax, noting that a large flat-rate 'poll tax' would be seen as unfair. The 1980s saw a period of general confrontation between central government and Labour-controlled local authorities, which eventually led to the abolition of the
Greater London Council The Greater London Council (GLC) was the top-tier local government administrative body for Greater London from 1965 to 1986. It replaced the earlier London County Council (LCC) which had covered a much smaller area. The GLC was dissolved in 198 ...
and the six
metropolitan county The metropolitan counties are a type of county-level administrative division of England. There are six metropolitan counties, which each cover large urban areas, with populations between 1 and 3 million. They were created in 1974 and are each di ...
councils. The commitment to abolish the rates was replaced in the 1983 general election manifesto with a commitment to introduce the ability for central government to cap rates which it saw as excessive. This was introduced by the Rates Act 1984. Although the rates system was supposed to have regular revaluations to minimise discrepancies, the revaluations in England and Wales had been cancelled in 1978 and 1983. The Scottish revaluation of 1985/1986 led to a great deal of criticism and gave added urgency to rates reform or replacement. The green paper of 1986, ''Paying for Local Government'', produced by the
Department of the Environment An environmental ministry is a national or subnational government agency politically responsible for the environment and/or natural resources. Various other names are commonly used to identify such agencies, such as Ministry of the Environment, ...
from consultations between Lord Rothschild, William Waldegrave and Kenneth Baker, proposed the poll tax. This was a fixed tax per adult resident, although there was a reduction for poor people. This charged each person for the services provided in their community. Owing to the variations in the amount of local taxes paid and the amount of grant provided by central government to individual local authorities, there were differences in the amount charged between councils. The term '
Poll tax A poll tax, also known as head tax or capitation, is a tax levied as a fixed sum on every liable individual (typically every adult), without reference to income or resources. Head taxes were important sources of revenue for many governments fr ...
' was coined as an alternative name because the tax had a passing resemblance to historical capitation taxes, in particular the English poll tax of 1379. This proposal was contained in the
Conservative Conservatism is a Philosophy of culture, cultural, Social philosophy, social, and political philosophy that seeks to promote and to preserve traditional institutions, practices, and values. The central tenets of conservatism may vary in r ...
manifesto A manifesto is a published declaration of the intentions, motives, or views of the issuer, be it an individual, group, political party or government. A manifesto usually accepts a previously published opinion or Consensus decision-making, publi ...
for the 1987 General Election. The legislation introducing the poll tax was passed in 1987, 1988 and the new tax replaced the rates in Scotland from the start of the 1989/90 financial year and in England and Wales from the start of the 1990/91 financial year. Additionally, the Uniform Business Rate, levied by local government at a rate set by central government and then apportioned between local authorities in proportion to their population, was introduced. The tax was not implemented in
Northern Ireland Northern Ireland ( ga, Tuaisceart Éireann ; sco, label=Ulster Scots dialect, Ulster-Scots, Norlin Airlann) is a part of the United Kingdom, situated in the north-east of the island of Ireland, that is #Descriptions, variously described as ...
, which continued, as it still does , to levy the rating system, despite some unionists calling for the region to have the same taxation system as Great Britain.


Implementation

The poll tax when implemented encountered a number of administrative and enforcement difficulties. Some renters did not pay, knowing they would have left Scotland when the bills arrived. Councils of towns with highly mobile populations, such as university towns, were faced with big store rooms of unprocessed "gone-aways". The initial register, which was based on the rates register for "owned" houses, contained many irregularities from supplementary data sources such as housing benefit recipients. A significant collection issue was the 20 per cent /100 per cent split. People in employment had to pay 100 per cent, while students and the registered unemployed paid 20 per cent. The nature of the shared house market meant that not even the landlord knew exactly who was living there; tenants were replaced and may have shared a "single" room with their partner. Therefore, the local council did not know who was living where and when. Councils were burdened with the task of pursuing the large numbers of defaulters, many of whom were acting as part of organised resistance to the charge. There is also some evidence that the poll tax had a lasting effect of people not registering themselves on the electoral register to evade collection attempts, possibly because of the false impression that the alternative name, 'poll tax' created. This may have had an effect on the results of the 1992 general election, which ended in a fourth successive Conservative victory, despite most opinion polls pointing to a
hung parliament A hung parliament is a term used in legislatures primarily under the Westminster system to describe a situation in which no single political party or pre-existing coalition (also known as an alliance or bloc) has an Majority, absolute majority o ...
or narrow Labour majority.


Opposition

The change from payment based on the worth of one's house to a fixed rate was widely criticised as being unfair, and needlessly burdensome on those less well-off. Mass protests were co-ordinated by the All Britain Anti-Poll Tax Federation, other national networks such as 3D (Don't Register, Don't Pay, Don't Collect) and by hundreds of local Anti-Poll Tax Unions (APTUs), which were not aligned to any particular political grouping. In Scotland, where the tax was implemented first, the APTUs called for mass non-payment. As the tax neared its implementation in England, protests against it began to increase. That culminated in a number of
poll tax riots The poll tax riots were a series of riots in British towns and cities during protests against the Poll tax (Great Britain), Community Charge (commonly known as the "poll tax"), introduced by the Third Thatcher ministry, Conservative government o ...
. The most serious of those was on 31 March 1990a week before the implementation of the taxwhen between 70,000 and 200,000 people demonstrated against the tax. The demonstration around
Trafalgar Square Trafalgar Square ( ) is a public square in the City of Westminster, Central London, laid out in the early 19th century around the area formerly known as Charing Cross. At its centre is a high column bearing a statue of Admiral Nelson commemor ...
left 113 people injured and 340 under arrest, with over 100 police officers needing treatment for injuries. There were further conflicts and protests, but none on the scale of the Trafalgar Square riot. As the amount of the poll tax began to rise and the inefficiency of local councils in their collection of the tax became apparent, large numbers of people refused to pay. Local councils tried to respond with enforcement measures, but they were largely ineffective given the huge numbers of non-payers. According to the BBC, up to 30 per cent of former ratepayers in some areas refused to pay. The anti-poll-tax organisations encouraged non-payers not to register, to clog up the courts by contesting local council attempts to gain liability orders, and ultimately, not to attend court hearings arising from their non-compliance. In November 1990, South Yorkshire Police said they were planning to refuse to arrest poll tax defaulters, even when instructed to by the courts, because it would be "physically impossible for the police because of the large number of defaulters". The opposition Labour Party, at its 1988 annual conference, decided against support for a non-payment campaign. In July 1991, Terry Fields, Labour
Member of Parliament A member of parliament (MP) is the representative in parliament of the people who live in their electoral district. In many countries with bicameral parliaments, this term refers only to members of the lower house since upper house members o ...
(MP) for Liverpool Broadgreen, and a member of the Militant tendency, was imprisoned for sixty days for refusing to pay. At the time of Fields' jailing, Labour leader
Neil Kinnock Neil Gordon Kinnock, Baron Kinnock (born 28 March 1942) is a British former politician. As a member of the Labour Party (UK), Labour Party, he served as a Member of Parliament (United Kingdom), Member of Parliament from 1970 United Kingdom ge ...
commented: "Law makers must not be law breakers.""1991: Anti-poll tax MP jailed"
BBC on this Day, 11 July
In popular culture, the punk band
The Exploited The Exploited are a Scottish punk rock band from Edinburgh Edinburgh ( ; gd, Dùn Èideann ) is the capital city of Scotland and one of its 32 Council areas of Scotland, council areas. Historically part of the county of Midlothian (inter ...
featured the song "Don't Pay The Poll Tax" in their album '' The Massacre'', which was released on 15 April 1990. Over 40 people collaborated on Punk Aide’s 1989 compilations ''Axe The Tax, Can’t Pay Won’t Pay'' and ''Fuck The Poll Tax''. Oi Polloi and Chumbawamba released and toured an EP called ''Smash the Poll Tax''. A compilation album, ''A Pox Upon The Poll Tax'', was also released in 1989. The Orchids released ‘Defy The Law’ in response to the Poll Tax. On their 22 March 1990 ''
Top Of The Pops ''Top of the Pops'' (''TOTP'') is a British Record chart, music chart television programme, made by the BBC and originally broadcast weekly between 1January 1964 and 30 July 2006. The programme was the world's longest-running weekly music show ...
'' appearance, Orbital performed " Chime" while wearing hoodies with a crosshair and seemingly-abstract imagery on them. Upon closer inspection, the hoodies read (when read left-to-right) "no poll tax".


Political consequences

After the poll tax was announced, opinion polls showed the Labour opposition opening a strong lead over the
Conservative Conservatism is a Philosophy of culture, cultural, Social philosophy, social, and political philosophy that seeks to promote and to preserve traditional institutions, practices, and values. The central tenets of conservatism may vary in r ...
government. Following the Poll Tax Riots, Conservative ministers contemplated abolition of the tax but knew that, as a flagship Thatcherite policy, its abolition would not be possible while Thatcher was still Prime Minister. Kinnock had vowed to abolish the poll tax if he won the next general election. For this, among other reasons, Thatcher was challenged by
Michael Heseltine Michael Ray Dibdin Heseltine, Baron Heseltine, (; born 21 March 1933) is a British politician and businessman. Having begun his career as a property developer, he became one of the founders of the publishing house Haymarket Media Group, Haymar ...
for the Conservative leadership in November 1990. Although she prevailed by a margin of fifty votes, she narrowly missed the threshold to avoid a second vote, and on 22 November 1990 she announced her resignation after more than a decade in office. All three of the contenders to succeed her pledged to abandon the tax. The successful candidate,
John Major Sir John Major (born 29 March 1943) is a British former politician who served as Prime Minister of the United Kingdom and Leader of the Conservative Party (UK), Leader of the Conservative Party from 1990 to 1997, and as Member of Parliament ...
, appointed Heseltine to the post of Environment Secretary, responsible for replacing the poll tax. In early 1991 the
Chancellor of the Exchequer The chancellor of the Exchequer, often abbreviated to chancellor, is a senior minister of the Crown within the Government of the United Kingdom, and head of HM Treasury, His Majesty's Treasury. As one of the four Great Offices of State, the Ch ...
,
Norman Lamont Norman Stewart Hughson Lamont, Baron Lamont of Lerwick, (born 8 May 1942) is a British politician and former Conservative Party (UK), Conservative Member of Parliament (United Kingdom), MP for Kingston-upon-Thames (UK Parliament constituency), ...
, announced a rise in
Value Added Tax A value-added tax (VAT), known in some countries as a goods and services tax (GST), is a type of tax that is assessed incrementally. It is levied on the price of a product or service at each stage of production, distribution, or sale to the end ...
from 15 to 17.5 per cent to pay for a £140 reduction in the tax. The abolition of the poll tax was announced on 21 March 1991. The Conservative government was re-elected for a fourth successive term in office at the 1992 general election, shaking off the strong challenge from the Labour Party. This election defeat prompted the resignation of Labour Party leader
Neil Kinnock Neil Gordon Kinnock, Baron Kinnock (born 28 March 1942) is a British former politician. As a member of the Labour Party (UK), Labour Party, he served as a Member of Parliament (United Kingdom), Member of Parliament from 1970 United Kingdom ge ...
.


Abolition

By the time of the 1992 general election, legislation had been passedLocal Government Finance Act 1992 replacing the poll tax with the
Council Tax Council Tax is a taxation, local taxation system used in England, Scotland and Wales. It is a Property tax, tax on domestic property, which was introduced in 1993 by the Local Government Finance Act 1992, replacing the short-lived Poll tax (Grea ...
from the start of the 1993/1994 financial year. The VAT rate of 17.5 per cent remained despite an earlier policy of charging a higher poll tax.
Council Tax Council Tax is a taxation, local taxation system used in England, Scotland and Wales. It is a Property tax, tax on domestic property, which was introduced in 1993 by the Local Government Finance Act 1992, replacing the short-lived Poll tax (Grea ...
strongly resembled the ''rates'' system tax that it had replaced. The main differences were at the tax's inception: that properties were placed in bands, thereby capping the maximum amount, and it was levied on capital value, rather than the notional rental value of a property. Households with only one occupant were also entitled to a 25 per cent discount. The only substantial change since the introduction of the Council Tax form of
direct tax Although the actual definitions vary between jurisdictions, in general, a direct tax or income tax is a tax imposed upon a person or property as distinct from a tax imposed upon a transaction, which is described as an indirect tax. There is a dis ...
ation is the gradual introduction of certain exemptions and discounts.


See also

*
Poll tax riots The poll tax riots were a series of riots in British towns and cities during protests against the Poll tax (Great Britain), Community Charge (commonly known as the "poll tax"), introduced by the Third Thatcher ministry, Conservative government o ...
*
Peasants' Revolt The Peasants' Revolt, also named Wat Tyler's Rebellion or the Great Rising, was a major uprising across large parts of England in 1381. The revolt had various causes, including the socio-economic and political tensions generated by the Black ...
– 14th-century rebellion against
serfdom Serfdom was the status of many peasants under feudalism, specifically relating to manorialism, and similar systems. It was a condition of debt bondage and indentured servitude with similarities to and differences from slavery, which developed ...
and the imposition of a poll tax *
Tommy Sheridan Tommy Sheridan (born 7 March 1966) is a Scottish politician who served as convenor of Solidarity (Scotland), Solidarity from 2019 to 2021. He previously served as convenor of the Scottish Socialist Party (SSP) from 1998 to 2004 and as co-conven ...
, Scottish socialist who originally came to prominence protesting against the poll tax * Bedroom tax *
Window tax Window tax was a property tax based on the number of windows in a house. It was a significant social, cultural, and architectural force in England, France, and Ireland during the 18th and 19th centuries. To tax avoidance, avoid the tax, some hous ...
*
Poll tax A poll tax, also known as head tax or capitation, is a tax levied as a fixed sum on every liable individual (typically every adult), without reference to income or resources. Head taxes were important sources of revenue for many governments fr ...


References


Further reading

* Alderman, R. K., and Neil Carter. "A very Tory coup: The ousting of Mrs Thatcher." ''Parliamentary Affairs'' 44.2 (1991): 125–139. *Bagguley, Paul. "Protest, poverty, peni and power : a case study of the anti-poll tax movement", ''Sociological review'', 1995, vol. 43, n° 4, pp. 693–719
Anti-Poll Tax Community based campaign
* Burns, Danny. ''Poll Tax Rebellion'' (AK Press, Stirling, Scotland, 1992.) * Butler, David, Andrew Adonis, and Tony Travers. ''Failure in British government: the politics of the poll tax'' (Oxford UP, 1994). * Crick, Michael, and Adrian Van Klaveren. "Mrs Thatcher's greatest blunder." ''Contemporary British History'' 5.3 (1991): 397–416; the poll tax. * Gibson, John G. "Voter reaction to tax change: the case of the poll tax 1." ''Applied Economics'' 26.9 (1994): 877–884. {{Margaret Thatcher Local taxation in Scotland Local taxation in England Local taxation in Wales 1989 establishments in Scotland 1990 establishments in England 1990 establishments in Wales 1989 in British politics 1990 in British politics Devolution in the United Kingdom Abolished taxes History of taxation in the United Kingdom Poll taxes