Wednesday, 6 April 2016

Happy New Year!

It’s time to wish the British taxman a happy New Year.

British accountants too, I suppose.

Tax Collectors and Accountants
A New Year for both sets of adversaries
“A happy new year?” I hear you cry, “on the 6th of April? Why such a bizarre date?”

Perfectly logical, I reply. The tax year, like the calendar year, started for many centuries on Lady Day, the day of the Annunciation to the Blessed Virgin Mary that she was pregnant with Jesus. Which falls, naturally, exactly nine months before Christmas, on 25 March.

“But that still isn’t 6 April,” you object.

Well, that’s true. But in the sixteenth century, most of Europe went over from the Julian Calendar, introduced by Caesar, to the Gregorian, introduced by the then Pope who, you’ll be surprised to learn, was called Gregory. It meant giving up nine days, but it brought the Calendar back into line with the true length of the solar year.

England, of course, was a Protestant nation so it stuck two fingers up to the Pope and stayed with the old way of doing things. Until the eighteenth century, when it decided that its point had been made, and switched to the Gregorian Calendar too. By then, the correction was eleven days and a lot of people were upset to have that many days “stolen” from their lives.

Not least of them, the tax authorities. Who weren’t going to give up their revenue. They adjusted the tax year so that it started eleven days after 25 March.

Which, you will quickly calculate, takes us to – 5 April. So we’re not quite there…

One of the other peculiarities of the Gregorian Calendar is that century years aren’t Leap Years – there’s no 29 February. Well, unless they’re also Millennium Years. 2000 was a Leap Year, but 1800 wasn’t.

“You’re stealing another day!” the tax collectors chorused in 1800. So the start of the year was moved one further day on.

After that, they stopped fiddling with it. And 6 April has been the start of the tax year in Britain ever since.

Happy New Year, everyone!

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