Poll tax

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United States

A poll tax is a voluntary tax that must be paid to exercise the right to vote. The 24th Amendment of the US Constitution, ratified in 1964, outlawed the use of this kind of tax as a condition of voting. Poll taxes were levied in several states after the Civil War for the purpose of preventing poor people from voting. In the southern states, this effectively suppressed African American and Native American voters.[1]

Great Britain

The poll tax, also known as the community charge, was the changing of rates so everyone paid the same amount of local taxation within a council area, introduced by Margaret Thatcher in Scotland in 1988 and in England and Wales in 1990. The thinking behind it was that instead of the tax being based on the price of the house, the total tax would be the same for everyone, thus ensuring that everyone paid the same amount. While popular with those who had previously been paying high levels of taxation, it proved unpopular with the poor, many of whom were left more than they could afford. Disquiet with the poll tax, combined with her growing personal unpopularity and a sense within her party that she was an electoral liability,[2] forced Thatcher from office in November 1990. She was replaced by John Major.

The Poll Tax in the UK was replaced in 1993 by the Council Tax. The rate of Council Tax is set by the Local Government, who then receive 25% of the revenue to fund local services. The tax is split into several bands with the band you pay based upon the value of your main house. There are discounts for single occupiers of a residence. Council Tax is often seen as unpopular and regressive, and there are some political parties that wish to replace the flat bands based on house value with a local income tax based upon yearly income.

There were also poll taxes levied in the late fourteenth century. While there was no income tax as we know it today, in medieval Britain there was a range of taxes, tithes, rents, duties and other means whereby the king and his nobles (and the Church) could develop income. The old Anglo-Saxon geld, or land tax, was still in use. Tallage, the right of the king to arbitrarily levy tax on his subjects was replaced by the need for Parliamentary consent in 1340, however the amount of revenue required still varied according to circumstances, especially the state of play in the war with France (Hundred Years War). At times of success, revenue from ransoms and from captured foreign estates flowed into the country but, during periods of French ascendency, the need for taxation rose and a poll tax was instituted – first in 1377, set at four pence per person, then in 1379 (“the evil subsidy”) at a shilling a head; a large amount for a peasant farmer but nothing to the Church or land-owning barons. There was widespread discontent. The announcement of plans for a third poll tax was the trigger for the Peasants Revolt of 1381

Occasional and short-lived poll taxes were levied from the 15th to the 17th centuries.


  1. http://www.usconstitution.net/constamnotes.html#Am24
  2. http://news.bbc.co.uk/onthisday/hi/dates/stories/march/31/newsid_2530000/2530763.stm

External links

  • Newsfilm Online Poll Tax Riots in London. ITN mid-evening news, March 31, 1990. Accessed July 7, 2007 (Requires Windows Media Player or Apple QuickTime)