When spending a penny gets expensive (and 5 other unpleasant UK taxes)

Using the loo is often referred to as ‘spending a penny’ but if you get caught short while out shopping and have to pay to use the public toilet it can cost a lot more than a penny. And if you’ve ever been irritated by having to pay to pee then spare a thought for the people of the Isle of Man who, as of this month, are hit with what’s being called the ‘Toilet Tax’.

This Toilet Tax is so called because any household and business on the Isle that’s connected to the sewerage system will have to pay an extra £50 annual charge on top of the water rates that they already pay. This charge is then set to increase to £100 a year from 2015.

This new tax, officially called the Sewerage Charge, has sparked opposition including a petition with thousands of signatures.

One major issue that has been raised is that this tax isn’t means-tested and is the same rate whether you’re a multi-millionaire or sitting on the poverty line.

Taxation is rarely popular and while the Toilet Tax is a bit of a stinker, UK history is peppered with rather controversial taxes. Here are five that particularly caught our attention:

Window Tax
Introduced in 1696, this tax was levied against any house with – yes, you guessed it – windows! If you had too many windows (the number of allowed windows would vary over the years) then you had to pay up. This law was only squashed in 1851 when it was branded a ‘tax on health’ and is often cited as the source of the phrase, ‘daylight robbery’. This tax resulted in many windows getting bricked up to save money, which leads us on to…

Brick Tax
To help pay for wars in the American colonies, King George III introduced a brick tax which was payable for every thousand bricks produced by brick makers. Keen not to pay any more than they had to, brick makers began producing larger bricks meaning less individual bricks had to be made. Interestingly, for this reason, brick size can be used to roughly date buildings as houses built pre-1784 tend to have smaller bricks.

Pasty Tax
While officially a tax on any ‘hot takeaway food’, this fallout from the 2012 Budget quickly hit the news headlines as the Pastygate scandal or Pasty Tax and resulted in an on-line campaign called “Don’t Tax My Pasty”.

Soap tax
If you think that the toilet tax might smell bad then take a thought for the people hit by the soap tax. During the Middle Ages, many European governments imposed this tax on soap which some believe was equivalent to the level of tax on alcohol today! This soap tax lingered like a bad smell until 1853 when William Gladstone repealed it.

Beard tax
It’s claimed that in 1535 King Henry VIII decided that lopping heads off loved ones wasn’t enough and decided to introduce a Beard Tax… despite wearing a beard himself. The tax is said to have been dependent on social status.
While some historians dispute this tax ever existed, it certainly reared its rugged face in Russia in 1968 under Emperor Peter I.

So there we have it, our favourite odd and unpopular UK taxes from the ages. There are still more though if you’re interested including (and I promise we’re not making these up), the Hat Tax, the Fireplace Tax and even the Wallpaper Tax (1712-1836)!