Great Britain’s poll tax, implemented to help fund local governments, was termed "the Community Charge" to rally taxpayers around its purported equity. A key benefit of the tax was said to be that it allowed all adults to equally share the burden of funding their local governments. In theory, such equal taxes lower taxes and spending overall. In the case of Great Britain, however, the poll tax was not capped, which resulted in a rise in overall taxation and a drastic shifting of the tax burden from the rich to the poor.
Prime Minister Margaret Thatcher and the Conservative Party government implemented the poll tax throughout the United Kingdom in 1989 and 1990. Implementation of the tax caused a number of problems. The previous tax was levied on the value of a home, while the poll tax was charged based on the number of adults living in a home. For this reason, adults living in rental properties often evaded the tax and governments had a hard time keeping tabs on who had paid. For localities with highly mobile populations, this created excess paperwork and a shortage of money.
There were several protests in response to the tax’s implementation. Collectively these protests were deemed the UK Poll Tax Riots. The largest of the riots took place on 31 March 1990 in London’s Trafalgar Square. Government agencies censured anarchists for the uprisings and the Socialist Workers’ Party was also blamed.
The riots are believed to have greatly contributed to Thatcher’s political demise. Outlines replacing the old rate tax, which was a property tax, with the poll tax, which was a flat tax, had been a key component of the Conservative Party’s claim to leadership in the late 1980s. Thatcher, however, continued to champion the tax even when public opposition to it became unquestionably strong. Policing procedures set out for mass gatherings also were changed because of the riots. During the demonstrators’ trials, information came out that showed police had acted with excessive force toward a number of protesters.
The London riot resulted in catastrophic changes in government and government agencies, and it also helped end the poll tax. Thatcher’s successor, John Major, abolished the tax when he took office in November 1990. In 1993, the tax was replaced by the council tax, which helped shift some of the tax burden off the poor. Flat taxes in other European nations, such as Iceland, have since been more successful than Great Britain’s poll tax.