Do you know where the term “daylight robbery” comes from?

No, it’s not some reference to a particularly brazen crook who picked pockets during the day – it actually comes from one of the UK’s weirdest tax laws.

In fact, the UK has had various strange tax laws over the almost 1,000 years of its history.

We were recently discussing some of these in the office and found some of them to be almost unbelievable.

Here are 10 of our favourites.

  1. Aromatic Powder Tax – an end to the wearing of wigs (1795)

This tax on the aromatic powders used in wigs caused a serious decline in wig popularity in the UK.

It’s fair to say that the elaborate wig industry never really recovered.

  1. Decimation Tax – Royalists beware (1655)

In 1655, Oliver Cromwell introduced the decimation tax, a 10 per cent levy on Royalists or suspected Royalists (those who supported Charles I during the recently concluded English Civil War) to fund the militias that Cromwell had established to maintain order.

It’s the equivalent of Abraham Lincoln imposing a 10 per cent tax on those who had backed the Confederacy.

As you might have guessed, it didn’t go down well and Cromwell’s decimation tax had a very brief existence.

  1. Scutage Tax – the real price of cowardice (roughly 1100-1154)

King Henry I introduced the scutagium or Scutage Tax allowing knights to avoid military duty in his campaigns by paying a fee.

It soon became known as the tax on cowardice.

  1. Playing Cards and Dice Tax – gambling with forgeries (1710-1960)

This tax on playing cards and dice led to widespread forgeries to avoid paying it.

The manufacturer was responsible for paying the tax and the Ace of Spades in each pack carried a stamped mark indicating that the tax had been paid.

This was only repealed in 1960 and there exists a particularly entertaining exchange between two Members of Parliament, in 1908, in which Mr Asquith and Mr Bottomly, discuss the issue.

Mr Asquith claims that: “The duty derived from playing cards in 1906/07 amounted to £32,672.”

Mr Bottomley replies: “Does not the right hon. Gentleman think that the imposition of a tax on playing cards implies State regulation of gambling?”

Bluntly, Mr Asquith quips: “Not necessarily.”

  1. Printed Wallpaper Tax – a blow to interior design (1712-1836)

The wallpaper tax was a property tax introduced in Great Britain in 1712, during the reign of Queen Anne.

Patterned, printed, or painted wallpaper rose to the equivalent of £3.86 per square yard by 1809.

You could bypass the tax by buying plain paper and having it hand stencilled.

The tax was abolished in 1836.

  1. Brick Tax – find bigger bricks (1700s-1850)

The tax on bricks probably started as a reasonable idea, but much like many others, policy makers quickly learned of the ingenuity of the public when it comes to tax mitigation.

The basic principle was the more bricks you use, the more tax you pay.

So, what did builders do? Use bigger bricks!

It was eventually repealed in 1850.

  1. Fireplace Tax – energy efficiency taken too far? (1660-1689)

This tax on fireplaces was, again, not a bad idea.

In essence, the Government of the day was trying to tax the richer houses (those with more fireplaces) harder than the poorer homes.

However, taxpayers quickly realised they could hide their fireplaces with bricks to evade the tax and it was repealed in 1689.

  1. Salt Tax – Gandhi’s protests and the Dandi march (1835-1947)

This particular tax gained international attention when Gandhi staged nonviolent protests against it.

It was a British colonial policy that heavily taxed the production and sale of salt.

This was particularly harsh on the inhabitants because salt was a staple necessity, and the high taxation made it prohibitively expensive for many Indians, impacting their daily lives and economic well-being.

The Dandi March, also known as the Salt March, saw Ghandi and his followers walk 240 miles to the Arabian Sea to protest the British salt monopoly and this oppressive tax.

It sparked widespread support for India’s independence movement.

  1. Hat Tax – you can’t stop fashion (1784-1811)

This tax on hats simply led to hat-makers avoiding the term “hats,” causing a subsequent tax on all headgear, which was repealed in 1811.

  1. Window Tax – daylight robbery (1696-1851)

This is where we get the term “daylight robbery” from.

Similar to some of the above-mentioned taxes, the intention was to tax richer houses based on the number of windows.

As you have probably guessed, this led to windows quickly being bricked up – usually starting at the servant’s quarters – and creating the term we continue to use today.

Have our taxes really improved much?

Today, our tax system looks a lot better than in the past and certainly contains less weird and wacky legislation.

It has been a continual process of improvement over almost 1000 years.

Having said that, just because it’s efficient and we have wormed out the sillier taxes, doesn’t mean it’s simple.

Today, the British tax code contains over 10 million words and 11,520 pages – the longest in the world.

(By comparison, the Hong Kong tax code, arguably the most efficient in existence, is only 276 pages long).

As such, the complexity and sheer weight of the UK tax code are overwhelming for most people to get their heads around.

That’s why, if you run a business, you need an experienced and qualified tax adviser on your team.

Please get in touch with one of our team if you are confused about any aspect of the UK’s tax system – we are ready to guide you through your liabilities.