Dear Delia

A recent issue of Mortgage Strategy highlighted the fact that there is a Council Tax revaluation looming. Can you tell me any more about this or indeed any other creative ways governments have imposed taxation on the good folk of dear old Blighty simply because they had the good fortune to own a house?

Delia says: They say only two things are certain; death and taxes and the UK certainly enjoys a lot of the latter. Here to help with your query is Simon White director at Ashdown Lyons and pundit from the back pages of Mortgage Strategy. Have you got a problem for Delia? Email mortgage.strategy@centaur.co.uk

Simon White is director of Ashdown Lyons
By far the best known property-related taxation measure was the Window Tax which was introduced in 1696 in the reign of William III. Our William thought this was a cracking idea because all buildings have windows therefore everyone would be liable. And anyway, he needed the cash to fund wars in Ireland and on the Continent.

But even William realised it wouldn’t exactly win popular acclaim to impose the Window Tax on the houses of ordinary folk and so initially it was to be paid only on houses which had more than six windows.

There was, however, a problem with Window Tax. It could fairly easily dodged. One straightforward way for a person to bypass the tax was simply to brick up one or two windows over the aforementioned six, and even today on some older houses, bricked up tax-evading windows can be seen. But by the way, this is not the only reason bricked up windows appear in buildings. Sometimes a blocked window can indicate that internal alterations have been undertaken, rendering the ex-window in question redundant. Also, hard-line architectural stylists in the eighteenth century considered a symmetrical fa栤e to be essential and often false or ‘blind’ windows were inserted into the design to provide balance against actual window openings. In fact, very often only a careful examination of the brickwork will reveal whether the detailing represents a blind window or a window blocked up to avoid Window Tax.

Records show that in 1792 houses with seven to nine windows had to pay an annual tax of two shillings but if your house had in excess of 10 windows the annual tax was four shillings – a considerable sum in those days.

In 1825 the minimum number of windows allowable went up from six to eight and in the face of growing resentment and simmering rebellion the Window Tax was replaced in 1851 with a tax called House Duty – the forerunner of the current Stamp Duty.

If you thought Window Tax was innovative, how about an earlier charge which was even more unpopular. This was Hearth Tax.

With the restoration of the monarchy in 1660, Parliament decided that the King of the day needed 1.2m a year to live on and to reach this figure they had to think of an additional form of taxation. So it was that a Jacobean boffin came up with the idea of taxing hearths or fireplaces, presumably as this was an idea that had already been tried and tested on the Continent.

In 1662 the Hearth Tax was proudly introduced and home owners were informed that for every fire, hearth or stove in their property there would be annual levy of two shillings. This levy was to be paid every six months at Michaelmas – September 29 – and on Lady Day – March 25.

Problems arose immediately, as it had not been made clear who would be responsible for payment. It must be remembered that this was a time when many properties were occupied by farm labourers who wouldn’t have had two pennies to rub together let alone enough going spare to cough up for additional taxation.

During the first year it was decided that it would be the poor occupier and not the more wealthy owner who would be liable for the tax .

But there were a number of interesting exemptions. Any house worth less than 20 shillings was exempt (and it is therefore comforting to know that even in 1662 I could have found work). Hearths in hospitals or alms houses were also kindly exempted, showing that the government of the day did at least have a warm, caring side.

The theory behind Hearth Tax is clear. In those days, the number of hearths a house had was an indicator of the social status of its owner – the more hearths, the more the owner could afford to cough up. But as you can imagine, the general public did not exactly warm to the Hearth Tax and when William and Mary came to the throne in 1689, it was abolished.

You think Hearth Tax and Window Tax were weird? Wait for this: 1784 saw the advent of the wonderful Brick Tax. Yes, a levy on bricks was introduced to encourage the use of alternative materials and was designed to be paid by builders and developers. This tax was considered to be a tremendous idea as the government didn’t like the fact that builders were using bricks imported from the Continent rather than good old English stone.

In fact, the levy on the use of bricks was increased in 1794 and again in 1803 until it was eventually repealed in 1850. By that time bricks were pretty much universally used to construct domestic dwellings in this country, outside stone-rich areas such as the Cotswolds.

Although not related to house ownership, another inventive type of tax was introduced in 1713, indicating that the Parliament of the day took the same attitude toward Scotland as does the present one.

It was decided a Malt Tax should be introduced in Scotland and all Scottish distillers producing malt whisky would have to pay up.

The introduction of this tax sparked off the great age of smuggling, illicit stills and tales of outwitting the Excise men that have passed into Scottish folklore. Those were the days…

So, though we may consider ourselves hard done by, our ancestors have suffered equally, proving the truth of old adage that the only certain things in life are death, taxes and, if you live in London, parking tickets.