Why does the UK Tax year start on the 6th April? Where did this obscure date come from?
We look at the tax year’s journey over the past hundred years in more detail.
Some dates never get questioned – they just are!
Like birthdays, Christmas and April Fools Day, some dates are imprinted in a person’s memory from an early age. Some dates in our calendars are just learned and accepted as events, no-one ever questions or asks why or what their the significance is.
For instance, the tax year in the UK runs from the 6th April to 5th April the following year. Indeed, a strange set of dates to remember – yet we all do! Those two unadorned dates affects millions of individuals, thousands of businesses and a multitude of countries alike. So why those two dates in particular? What is their history and why do we continue to live our fiscal lives by them?
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A Roman beginning
In approx 45 BC Julius Caesar made the decision to reform the 355 day Roman calendar and thus created the Julian calendar. It consisted of 365 days, divided into 12 months, with a leap day added every four years and was heavily based around the Christian church’s liturgical seasons and festivals. Although the Roman calendar and subsequent Julian calendar both set their New Year as the 1st January, during the period 1155 to 1751 the New Year was set to the liturgical date 25th March to coincide with the festival ‘Incarnation (conception) of Jesus‘ and all financial periods were adjusted accordingly.
11 days added to the year – surely not!
In 1582 Pope Gregory XIII introduced the Gregorian calendar, also called the Western calendar. Its aim was to correct the discrepancies of the Julian calendar which had set the year at a fixed 365.25 days per year, when in fact it was almost 11 minutes shorter. The discrepancy had resulted in a drift of about 10 days since Roman times.
Britain and the British Empire (including the eastern part of what is now the United States) adopted the Gregorian calendar in 1752, by which time it was necessary to correct the date by 11 days and adjust the New Year date to 1st January. Therefore, Wednesday, 2nd September 1752 was followed by Thursday, 14th September 1752.
After 1753, the British tax year in Britain continued to operate on the Julian calendar and the new tax year was set to 5th April, which was the “Old Style” new tax year of 25th March adjusted by 10 days. A 12th skipped Julian leap day in 1800 changed its start to 6th April. It was not changed when a 13th Julian leap day was skipped in 1900. To this day the tax year in the United Kingdom still begins on 6th April and ends on the 5th April the following year.
So next time these strange set of dates are banded around the office and no-one thinks to ask why – perhaps you should enlighten them and pay your respect to their historical past and resonance in our modern world!
Interested in history? Read our 10 Bank Holiday Facts – Past and Present. Sociology? Try National Minimum Wage – Why is it not a living wage? or even Anthropology? The Cultural Biography of a Paper Payslip.
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