Receiving our wages at the end of a long, hard month always brings with it a sense of satisfaction. That is until you look at the taxes on your wage slip. But can you imagine if there was also a window tax included every month?
It may sound ridiculous but that was exactly the case in England only 160 years ago. The window tax was a reality for residents for over 150 years, with many campaigners calling it both a ‘tax on light and air’ and a ‘tax on health’. As you could imagine, the middle and lower classes of the time had to bear the greatest burden as it affected their lower wages.
Why was the tax introduced?
Under the reign of William III coins in circulation were made from either pure silver or gold. Criminals would carry out a practice called ‘coin clipping’ that entailed filing or cutting off a small section of the coin. Most of the time this would go unnoticed and ordinary citizens would be in possession of imperfectly round coins. These cut-off pieces were then collected in bundles by criminals and melted into a single gold or silver bar before being sold, or alternatively made into counterfeit coins.
In an effort to recoup some of the revenue lost by coin clipping, the tax was introduced in 1696.
How did the window tax work?
Landlords were liable for payment of the window tax. However, this meant rents were often raised to compensate for the extra costs, causing many of the working classes to lose their homes, or have their income stretched to its limits.
Similar to modern day council tax charges it was implemented in bands. For example, in 1747 if you were a landlord in possession of a house with 10-14 windows the payment would be 6d. per window. 15-19 windows was 19d. and anything over 20 led to a charge of 1s. per window.
While these may sound like large houses with lots of windows that is mostly not the case. A lot of residential homes featured a large number of smaller windows to let in light, as this was some time before glazing was cheap enough to be installed as the norm.
Between 1747 and 1808 the tax was raised six times, with the lowest band starting at 6 windows. It was an easy tax to collect because the windows on each building could be easily viewed from street level.
What did landlords do to avoid the tax?
One of the knock on effects of the tax was that new many houses were constructed with fewer windows to lower long-term costs. Despite a huge increase in the population by 1851, it was reported that glass production had remained at the same level as the previous four decades.
Some particularly keen tax collectors would attempt to charge for cracks in the wall or perforated grates found in larders. This forced many landlords to try to avoid paying the tax, or to fall into a lower tax band, by simply blocking up windows in their properties.
With the population growing and the industrial age rapidly expanding, medical experts raised concerns about the effect this was having on people’s health. The campaign eventually won, which saw the window tax law repealed in 1851 and replaced by a new house tax.