Window tax

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The 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, Ireland and Scotland during the 18th and 19th centuries. To avoid the tax some houses from the period can be seen to have bricked-up window-spaces (ready to be glazed or reglazed at a later date). In England and Wales it was introduced in 1696 and was repealed in 1851, 156 years after first being introduced. France (established 1798, repealed 1926) and Scotland both had window taxes for similar reasons.

A property tax or millage rate is an ad valorem tax on the value of a property, usually levied on real estate. The tax is levied by the governing authority of the jurisdiction in which the property is located. This can be a national government, a federated state, a county or geographical region or a municipality. Multiple jurisdictions may tax the same property. This tax can be contrasted to a rent tax which is based on rental income or imputed rent, and a land value tax, which is a levy on the value of land, excluding the value of buildings and other improvements.

Window transparent or translucent opening

A window is an opening in a wall, door, roof or vehicle that allows the passage of light, sound, and air. Modern windows are usually glazed or covered in some other transparent or translucent material, a sash set in a frame in the opening; the sash and frame are also referred to as a window. Many glazed windows may be opened, to allow ventilation, or closed, to exclude inclement weather. Windows often have a latch or similar mechanism to lock the window shut or to hold it open by various amounts.

Tax avoidance is the legal usage of the tax regime in a single territory to one's own advantage to reduce the amount of tax that is payable by means that are within the law. Tax sheltering is very similar, although unlike tax avoidance tax sheltering is not necessarily legal. Tax havens are jurisdictions which facilitate reduced taxes.



The tax was introduced in England and Wales in 1696 under King William III and was designed to impose tax relative to the prosperity of the taxpayer, but without the controversy that then surrounded the idea of income tax. [1] [2]

William III of England 17th-century Stadtholder, Prince of Orange and King of England, Scotland and Ireland

William III, also widely known as William of Orange, was sovereign Prince of Orange from birth, Stadtholder of Holland, Zeeland, Utrecht, Gelderland and Overijssel in the Dutch Republic from 1672 and King of England, Ireland and Scotland from 1689 until his death in 1702. As King of Scotland, he is known as William II. He is sometimes informally known in Northern Ireland and Scotland as "King Billy".

An income tax is a tax imposed on individuals or entities (taxpayers) that varies with respective income or profits. Income tax generally is computed as the product of a tax rate times taxable income. Taxation rates may vary by type or characteristics of the taxpayer.

At that time, many people in Britain opposed income tax, on principle, because the disclosure of personal income represented an unacceptable governmental intrusion into private matters, and a potential threat to personal liberty. [3] In fact the first permanent British income tax was not introduced until 1842, and the issue remained intensely controversial well into the 20th century. [4]

When the window tax was introduced, it consisted of two parts: a flat-rate house tax of 2 shillings per house (equivalent to £12.73 in 2016), [5] and a variable tax for the number of windows above ten windows in the house. Properties with between ten and twenty windows paid an extra four shillings (equivalent to £25.47 in 2016), [5] and those above twenty windows paid an extra eight shillings (equivalent to £50.94 in 2016). [5]

In 1709 with the union of England and Scotland, taxes were harmonised and a new top rate of 20s total was introduced for houses with 30 or more windows. In 1747 the 2s flat rate was detached from the window tax as a tax in its own right and the way the window tax was calculated was altered. 6d was charged for each window in a house with 10–14, 9d for each window in a house with 15–19, 1s for every window in a house with 20 or more. In 1758 the flat rate charge was increased to 3s. The number of windows that incurred tax was changed to seven in 1766 and eight in 1825. [6]

A house in Portland Street, Southampton, with bricked-up spaces in place of windows Window Tax.jpg
A house in Portland Street, Southampton, with bricked-up spaces in place of windows

The flat-rate tax was changed to a variable rate, dependent on the property value, in 1778. People who were exempt from paying church or poor rates, for reasons of poverty, were exempt from the window tax. [7] Window tax was relatively unintrusive and easy to assess. Manchester Royal Infirmary had to pay a tax of 1/9d per window on the windows of the rooms occupied by staff of the infirmary in 1841—a total of £1 9/9d. [8] Certain rooms, particularly dairies, cheeserooms and milkhouses, were exempt providing they were clearly labelled, and it is not uncommon to find the name of such rooms carved on the lintel. The bigger the house, the more windows it was likely to have, and the more tax the occupants would pay. Nevertheless, the tax was unpopular, because it was seen by some as a tax on "light and air". [9]

Manchester Royal Infirmary Hospital in United Kingdom, England

Manchester Royal Infirmary is a hospital in Manchester, England, founded by Charles White in 1752. It is now part of Manchester University NHS Foundation Trust, sharing buildings and facilities with several other hospitals.

In Scotland, a window tax was imposed after 1748. A house had to have at least seven windows or a rent of at least £5 to be taxed. [10] A similar tax also existed in France from 1798 to 1926.

There was a strong agitation in England in favour of the abolition of the tax during the winter of 1850–51, and it was accordingly repealed on 24 July 1851, and a tax on inhabited houses substituted. [11] The Scottish window tax was also abolished at the same time.

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  1. Herber, Mark D (1997). Ancestral Trails: The complete guide to British genealogy and family history. Sutton Publishing Ltd. ISBN   0-7509-1418-1. p.416
  2. British History Online, Statutes of the Realm: volume 7: 1695-1701, 'William III, An Act for granting to His Majesty severall Rates or Duties upon Houses for making good the Deficiency of the clipped Money [Chapter XVIII. Rot. Parl. 7&8 Guil. III. p. 5. n. 4', Statutes of the Realm, volume 7: 1695-1701 (1820), pp. 86-94. URL: Date accessed 18 September 2012
  3. John Stuart Mill, Principles of Political Economy (1848), Bk. V, Ch. 3, Section 5
  4. HM Revenue & Customs "Nicholas Vansittart was Chancellor when Napoleon was defeated [in 1815]. His inclination was to maintain some tax on income, but public sentiment and the opposition were against him. A year after Waterloo, income tax was repealed ‘with a thundering peal of applause’ and Parliament decided that all documents connected with it should be collected, cut into pieces and pulped."
  5. 1 2 3 UK Retail Price Index inflation figures are based on data from Clark, Gregory (2017). "The Annual RPI and Average Earnings for Britain, 1209 to Present (New Series)". MeasuringWorth. Retrieved 6 November 2017.
  6. Andrew E. Glantz (2008). "A tax on light and air: Impact of the Window Duty on Tax Administration and Architecture, 1696-1852". University of Pennsylvania. Retrieved 8 September 2015.
  7. Herber p. 416
  8. Brockbank, William (1952). Portrait of a Hospital. London: William Heinemann. p. 77.
  9. "Citizenship".
  10. National Archives of Scotland: Guide to taxation records.
  11. Encyclopædia Britannica (1911), volume 28, page 713.