The tax man cometh

As all Brits know, the tax year ends today. But have you ever considered why we choose this arcane, and seemingly arbitrary day as the end of the tax year? The unlikely answer is: as a result of a decree in 1582 by Pope Gregory XIII.

OK, the Pope didn’t issue a decree saying that England’s tax system must end on 5 April, but he did introduce the Gregorian (or Christian) calendar – and I’ve certainly mentioned the calendar in other blogs.

At the time that the Gregorian Calendar was introduced we (the English) were using the Julian calendar and collecting tax every quarter.  We had a simple system based on quarter days (specifically named days near to the solstices and equinoxes), these being

  • Lady Day (25 March)
  • Midsummer Day (24 June)
  • Michaelmas Day (29 September)
  • Christmas Day (25 December)

and the New Year was celebrated on 25 March (so Lady Day was also New Year’s Day). Tax was thus calculated on a calendar year and ended on 25 March.

So far so good.

But in 1752 two things happened: we decided to harmonise our New Year with that used elsewhere (1 January), and also to replace the Julian Calendar with the Gregorian.  Unfortunately, by 1752 the two calendars were 11 days out of synchronisation and so, in September 1752 eleven days were omitted (hence the calendar shown in the picture) and those good people of England going to sleep on 2 September woke up the next morning on 14 September.  This brought us in line with everyone else, not only in terms of the date, but also when we celebrated the New Year.

However, this all created outrage.  More specifically, the loss of eleven days created uproar: why should the taxpayers pay a full year’s worth of tax for a period which was, undoubtedly, not a year.  And so the compromise was reached: the taxy year would be extended to Lady Day (as was traditional) plus eleven days (as lost in the calendar changeover).

And 25 March plus eleven days is 5 April. Seems logical now, doesn’t it.