“Nothing is Certain but Death and Taxes” . . . Death Fits the Bill, Yet What of Taxes?

In “another life,” so people often say, I was a tax preparer for about five years. Even so, I would not dare to attempt to file my taxes these days without a properly trained tax preparer at hand. I have retirement benefits from three different states and a handful of 1099s from my writing. Moreover, this last year, I sold one house and had a new one built.

All that being said, the Benjamin Franklin quote really only can be applied to “death,” not “taxes,” for tax law changes every year, and some years more than others. It is impossible to predict with any accuracy what will change from year to year. That’s because the tax brackets are adjusted each year to account for inflation

All this has led me to a question I received about a month or so removed about taxes during the Regency era. I answered the person right away, but I have purposely saved the response I provided to now, with Tax Day (here in the U.S.) quickly approaching.

Question: Do you know when taxes were paid or how long a person could go without paying taxes before the income from their estate could be seized? I found a lot of information on the types of taxes paid yearly, but nothing about the time of year when they were paid. Any help would be appreciated.

Response: There were hundreds of taxes and so there are a variety of dates on which they would be due. Some were paid as you go, so to speak. For others, the tax man came along and counted the number of windows in the person’s residence and looked at the number of footmen employed and counted the crested carriages owned and other four-wheeled vehicles, etc., and made his demand. A person then had “x” number of days to pay the tax. Some taxes were due in quarter days and some on cross quarter days.

Traditionally – and dating back to the Middle Ages – the quarter days were the 4 dates when servants were hired and rent was paid. They fell on religious festivals every 3 months and were close to the solstices and equinoxes. Any debts were settled and recorded on the quarter days.

In the Regency era, in England, Wales, and Ireland, the quarter days were important events on the calendar. Rents were due, school terms started, and servants might be paid and hired. In England, these four dates fell on: Lady Day or March 25, Midsummer or June 24, Michaelmas or September 29, and Christmas Day. In Scotland the quarter days are 28 February, 28 May, 28 August and 28 November. Meanwhile, the cross-quarter days are four holidays falling in between the quarter days: Candlemas (2 February), May Day (1 May), Lammas (1 August), and All Hallows (1 November).

For years the government’s fiscal year began on Lady Day, 25 March, a quarter day.

Question: Specifically, how long before a tax lien would be placed on the property? When would taxes be considered delinquent, say from 1810, be due?

Response: The tax was due in quarterly installments until the late 1800’s. I would think taxes due in 1810 would not be called delinquent until after 6 April 1811. Then there would be various ways of collecting these taxes before any seizure of the property, etc., so the tax delinquent probably could have until 1812 before property was seized. HOWEVER, in the meantime, the taxes for 1811 and 1812 would have become due. Spiraling debt is a hard lesson to learn.

The delinquent person would be brought before the judges of the court of the Exchequer to have the debt be formally recognized and an order drafted for the property to be seized. The property of peers was handled differently from that of commoners, though it was still seized.

Owners of land or property (according to the size of their landholdings) paid a direct tax. This “land tax” was required of those who owned any property from farms to estates to innkeepers to shopkeepers, etc. Parliament set the tax yearly and, during the 1700s, it was between 2 and 4 shillings in the pound based on the value of the property.

Taxes the 18th Century Way tells us, “An unusual feature of the tax was that it was administered not by government officials, but by unpaid local ‘commissioners’, gentry who were nominated by Parliament and whose names were included in the annual Land Tax Acts. Those who collected the tax were usually local men of modest means, such as farmers or tradesmen.”

The UK Parliament site also speaks to indirect taxes, though this information does not speak to tax days, I found it delightfully interesting, so I am sharing it, as well. “The commonest indirect taxes paid by most people in the 18th century were excise duties. These were levied by Parliament on basic commodities – household essentials such as salt, candles, leather, beer, soap, and starch. Duties on ‘luxury’ items, such as wine, silks, gold and silver thread, silver plate, horses, coaches and hats were aimed at wealthier consumers. Parliament raised or lowered duties, as well as adding new items or dropping others, depending on the needs of the time. In practice, however, consumers were largely unaware of these impositions as it was the traders who actually paid. There were also ‘Assessed Taxes’, of which the best known is the Window Duty. This was first levied by Parliament in 1696 in support of William III’s war with France. House owners paid two shillings on properties with up to ten windows, and four shillings for between 10 and 20 windows. From 1778 the rate was made a variable one depending on the value of the property.”

Now back to the question from my reader, another glitch in answering the question comes with what was known as Correction Tax day was changed to April 6 in 1800.

Source of this matter: The Julian Calendar had been in place since 45 BC. In 1582, Pope Gregory XIII ordered the calendar changed, for the Julian calendar differed from the solar calendar by 11.5 minutes, which was not initially such a big deal, but after 500 years, the difference had built up to 10 days off the solar calendar. Therefore, the Pope introduced the Gregorian calendar. The Gregorian calendar reduced the length of the calendar year from 365.25 days to 365.2425, a reduction of 10 minutes 48 seconds per year. Most of Europe accepted the change, but the British Empire did not embrace the change. However, the difference of 11 days on the calendar was a real-killer for important trade routes, etc., and, moreover, the difference would continue to increase over time.

“On the old British Calendar the tax year began on March 25 (the old New Year’s Day). In order to ensure against losing revenue it was decided by the British Treasury that the tax year, which started on March 25 1752, would be of the usual length (365 days) and therefore it would end on April 4, the following tax year beginning on April 5. Time passed smoothly and most importantly accurately until 1800. Unfortunately, 1800 was not a leap year in the new Gregorian calendar but would have been in the old Julian system. Thus the treasury moved the start of the UK tax year from the April 5 to the April 6 and it has remained there ever since!” (UK Tax History Lesson)

In other words, in typical style, the Treasury was concerned to ensure there would be no loss of tax revenue and no concession to the populous, and so it decided the tax year should remain as 365 days. So the beginning of the following tax year was moved from 25 March to 5 April and everyone was happy, kind of. Having done it once, the Treasury then decreed in 1800, there would be another lost day of revenue, given the century end would have been a leap year under the Julian calendar, whereas it was not under the new Gregorian calendar. Thus 1800 was a leap year for tax purposes, but not for the purpose of the calendar, and so the tax year start was moved on again by a single day to 6 April.

For more information on this change, check out “Why Does the Uk Tax Year Start on April 6 Each Year?

The change in calendar in 1752 had many ramifications. Practically everything else still was due on various quarter days and parliamentary acts often went into effect on March 25.

If you are interested in more information on the Quarter Days, check out this piece on Regency Fiction Writers.


About Regina Jeffers

Regina Jeffers is the award-winning author of Austenesque, Regency and historical romantic suspense.
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