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When the government stole 11 days

When the government stole 11 days

Why the tax year begins on April 6
Lady Day in England

Today is April 6, the beginning of the new tax year In the UK. Odd that the UK tax year should begin on such an apparently random date as April 6, but there is a reason.

Once upon a time, the new year in England did not begin in the middle of winter on January 1. The year was aligned with the seasons and it began around the spring equinox (when the length of day and night is the same) on 25 March – Lady Day.

England operated on the Julian calendar (so named because it came into law under Julius Caesar). Lady Day was one of the four quarter days, the other three being Midsummer Day (24 June), Michaelmas (29 September) and Christmas Day.

Quarter days were important days. They were when rents were paid, accounts were due, servants were hired and school terms began. The tradition went the way back to medieval times (in fact probably back to the days of Roman rule).

As Lady Day fell between ploughing and harvesting, it became the date on which long-term contracts between farmer and land-owner would begin, so it also came to be the first day of the fiscal and contractual year. Farmers could often be seen travelling from old farm to new on Lady Day.

In 1582, Pope Gregory XIII introduced the Gregorian calendar, and Europe, led by France, began to adopt it. Scotland, both independent and Catholic at the time, switched in 1600. Protestant England, however, did not embrace this Catholic innovation and stayed with what it knew.

Eventually, in 1751, to address the growing problem of ‘dual dating’ (people using different calendars), and to be consistent with both Scotland and the rest of Europe, Parliament passed the Calendar Act, and Britain switched from the Julian to the Gregorian calendar. January 1 became the first day of the new year.

1751 became a short year, running only from March to December, but England still had to adjust by 11 days in order to align the two calendars. So it was decided that Wednesday 2 September 1752, would be followed by Thursday 14 September.

Thus did England ‘lose’ 11 days.

Taxes and other dues still had to be paid on Lady Day, 25 March, however, and of course collectors wanted the full amount. But people wanted something for the 11 days they had lost.

‘Give us our eleven days!’ they cried. There are even stories of riots breaking out.

A compromise was reached by moving the start of the fiscal year back 11 days, to April 6. It has remained the beginning of the tax year ever since.

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The above is a from Daylight Robbery: How tax shaped our past and will change our future.

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