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Poll tax

Poll Tax, also known as capitation, refers to a tax collected equally from all people.

In the United Kingdom, "Poll Tax" commonly refers to two taxes levied by John of Gaunt and Margaret Thatcher, in the fourteenth and twentieth centuries respectively. See the United Kingdom section below for more information.

The word poll[?] is an English word that also means "head".

United States

The United States Constitution, Article 1, section 9, prohibits Congress from laying capitation taxes or other direct taxes. (The Sixteenth Amendment allows the Federal government to tax income.) However, some states used poll taxes and literacy tests to determine eligibility for suffrage, circumventing the Fifteenth Amendment with a "grandfather clause" that allowed any adult male whose father or grandfather voted to vote. The Twenty-fourth Amendment also ended this process.

United Kingdom

John of Gaunt, the regent of Richard II of England, levied his poll tax in 1381 to finance the war against France that was in progress. Each person aged over 15 was required to pay the amount of one shilling, which was a large amount then. This provoked the Peasants' Revolt, due in part to attempts to restore feudal conditions in rural areas.

Margaret Thatcher, Prime Minister of the United Kingdom from 1979 to 1990, decided to replace the rating system of local taxes (based on the value of a house) with Community Charge (based on each adult resident in a house). The bill for the Community Charge was passed in 1988 and the new tax replaced the rates in Scotland from the start of the 1989/90 financial year and in England and Wales from the start of the 1990/91 financial year.

This became known as the Poll Tax due to people becoming suspicious (correctly, as events transpired) that the Electoral register[?] would be used to find people for the purposes of collecting this tax. A large number of people were estimated to have disappeared from the electoral roll, and avoided re-registration, because of this tax.

It was thought to be unfair as the tax burden shifted from the estimated price of a house to the number of people living in it, with the perceived effect of shifting the tax burden from the rich to the poor. It did not help that Margaret Thatcher chose to champion the Community Charge herself and apparently chose to be both ruthless in imposing it and adamant that there would be no "U-turns" (reversals in policy).

The charge was bitterly opposed and people sought to protest through mass protests and through not paying it so they would be prosecuted in a manner close to Gandhi's Passive Resistance[?].

However as the charges began to rise, and enforcement measures became increasingly draconian, unrest mounted and culminated in a number of riots. The most serious of these happened in London on March 31, 1990, and started during a protest at Trafalgar Square, London, which 300,000 protestors had attended.

Politicians of the governing UK Conservative party came to the conclusion that their party was doomed to electoral defeat if the tax remained and that there was no prospect of its abandonment while Mrs Thatcher remained leader. This resulted in the success of a leadership challenge by Michael Heseltine in demonstrating the untenability of her position (although in the actual vote of MPs Thatcher prevailed by a margin of 50 votes out of 370). On November 22, 1990 Mrs Thatcher resigned and all three contenders to succeed her pledged to abandon the tax.

The successful candidate, John Major, appointed his defeated rival Michael Heseltine to the post of Environment Secretary responsible for replacing the Community Charge. By the time of the 1992 General Election, legislation had been passed replacing Community Charge with the Council Tax from the start of the 1993/94 financial year.

The Council Tax strongly resembled the rating system that the Poll Tax had replaced. The main differences were that it was levied on capital value rather than notional rental value of a property, and that a 25% discount for single occupancy dwellings was introduced.

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