Windows Tax—A Tax Based On The Number Of Windows In The House

Windows Tax—A Tax Based On The Number Of Windows In The House

The window tax sets a dramatic and transparent historical example. Potential distorting effects of taxation. Implemented in England in 1696, the tax is a type of predecessor of the modern property tax — was levied on dwellings with a tax liability based on the number of windows.

The window tax, based on the number of windows in the house, was first introduced in 1696 by William III to cover the loss of revenue due to the clipping of the coinage. Houses with more than ten windows had to pay for ten shillings.

It was a banded tax on the number of windows in the house. An important feature of the tax was that it was levied on the occupant, not the owner of the residence. So the tenant, not the landlord, paid the tax.

The impact of the tax can be seen in 1766, when the tax was extended to include houses with seven or more windows, the number of houses in England and Wales with exactly seven windows was reduced by almost two-thirds.

Many houses bricked up their windows to reduce the number that caused health problems. The negative impact of the tax on health was well known from the early eighteenth century and was written in pamphlets and popular ballads. Those living in houses without sufficient light and ventilation were more likely to suffer from typhus, smallpox, and cholera epidemics.

When the window tax was introduced, it consists of two sections: a flat-rate house tax of two shillings per house, and a variable tax on the number of windows in the house above ten. A further four shillings were paid for properties with between ten and twenty windows, and an additional eight shillings were paid for those over twenty windows. 

In early 1718, it was noted that there was a decline in tax revenue due to windows being blocked. It was also noted that new houses were being built with fewer windows. In 1851, it was reported that the production of glass remained almost the same since 1810, despite the large increase in population and the construction of new houses.

After 156 years, it was abolished in 1851, after campaigners labeled it a "tax on health" and a "tax on light and air" and also pressure from doctors and others who argued that lack of light was a source of ill health.

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