Hearth Tax

Hearth Tax

A tax upon hearths was first introduced on 19 May 1662, being collected at the following Michaelmas.

The charge was 2 shillings per hearth per annum, and was payable by all non-exempt occupiers, exemptions being granted to: those who were liable to neither Church nor Poor Rate; those occupying an house worth less than £1 per year who did not have other property exceeding that value, or an annual income in excess of £10; charitable institutions such as almshouses, free schools or hospitals; and industrial hearths others than bakers' ovens and smiths' forges. Attempts to avoid payment were punishable by up to one month in jail.

A revision of the Act in 1664 made the tax payable by all who had more than two chimneys: a stopped-up chimney, on discovery, being charged double. The revision also made landlords liable to pay the tax of poor tenants. The tax was usually collected by appointees of the Treasury, although in the periods 1666 - 9 and 1674 - 84 it was put out to contract.

The tax was abolished by William III in 1689, ostensibly as being "a great oppression to the poorer sort" and a breach of civil liberties in that it allowed every man's house to be entered and searched by persons unknown. In fact, the abolition seems to have been due to the tax not having raised the revenue that had been estimated, and being too expensive to collect. The last collection was for Lady Day of 1689.

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