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Window Tax

A brief look at the Window Tax

From 1696 until 1851, there was a window tax based on the number of windows in a home.

As a progressive tax, the amount increased depending on the total number, such as a home with more than 15 windows would be taxed, per window, nearly double a house with 10-14 windows.

Size and type of window did not matter, so even an open grate in a larder could be considered a "window" and subject to taxation. Needless to say, windows were boarded or bricked. If one was renting, the landlord would typically board all windows in the house.

The window tax lasted a century and a half, despite the consequences. It was levied to offset the expenses the king had spent on war and re-coinage, intending to be temporary, but it stuck around from 1696-1851. As bad as it sounds at face value, how about knowing the definition of "window" meant anything from a loose brick to a cellar door?

The consequences are numerous, but let's cover a few:

  • In response to the tax, windows were bricked up to avoid the cost.

  • For residents, this meant no light and little to no ventilation inside the home, thus an increase in epidemics, namely cholera, smallpox, dysentery, gangrene, and typhus.

  • Tenants in rural areas were responsible for the tax, not their landlord, so whether or not the landlord approved, the tenants would brick windows.

  • Tenants in urban area tenements were subject to the landlord's discretion since the landlord in this case was responsible, typically leading to (a) raised rents, (b) bricked up windows, and (c) poor conditions since the landlord would not repair or clean or maintain since he needed to offset any taxes imposed. Here's to hoping the building to catch fire, as the only egress and ventilation would be the first floor front door.

  • New buildings were constructed without windows or very few windows.

  • The rules became stricter over time, such as changing the definition of a "window" to include anything from a cellar door to a loose brick. Anything resembling a door, hole, grate, or otherwise would be defined as a "window" and taxed.

  • The tax increased from flat rates per # of windows to paying per window.

And in case you're wondering if the chimney counted as a "window," give the "chimney tax" a stern look.

A great read on the window tax:

To read more about the window tax, check out these articles and various research blogs:

The Window Tax: A Case Study in Excess Burden, by Wallace E Oates and Robert M. Schwab in Journal of Economic Perspectives, Vol. 29, No 1, 2015, pg. 163-180.

Parliament UK: Window Tax

All Things Georgian: 18th Century Taxes

Regency Redingote: Glass Excise and Window Tax

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