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What Was the UK Poll Tax?

Misty Knight-Rini
Misty Knight-Rini

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.

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Businessman with a briefcase

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.

Discussion Comments


You should look at Land Value Tax. It is based on the location not the building. Taxing the building is as daft as taxing your washing machine. The higher the value the more the LVT levy. The lower the value the less you pay. It is self regulating, dictated by the market. The tax cannot be avoided as land cannot be taken offshore. It is very cheap to collect.

It is the only fair tax.


It seems strange to me that a family living in a two up-two down house with four adults, pay as much tax as someone living in a 60 room mansion,(tax deductible) that has the same numberof adult residents?


Unlike in the United Kingdom the United States has a very different usage of the term "poll tax." A poll tax in the United States was a tax placed on someone specifically to vote in an election. This was aimed at newly feed African American slaves following the Emancipation Proclamation, which announced their freedom.

Due to the unpopularity of this action poll taxes were created that charged that people were required to pay in order to vote. Whites that had ancestors that were considered citizens before the act were grandfathered in and did not have to pay. This poll tax specifically targeted a new group of citizens and made it hard for them to engage in one of the most basic Constitutional rights available and greatly inhibited their voting patters until poll taxes were outlawed.

Despite the different meaning the outrage that people had in the United States was similar to the people in United Kingdom that felt they were specifically being targeted in some way to pay extra money for no good reason. This is the problem with pol taxes and it is very difficult for a government to justify them and if they do they much do so very carefully so not to avoid a political mess or a very negative public relations campaign.


I would like to say that the UK poll tax was a case of the government overstepping its boundaries, however what the government did was completely legal and people in a way simply overreacted to it without trying to address the rather minor problems with the issue.

The issue of the poll tax in the United Kingdom was that many people were not subject to taxes, due to mobility, and this caused the rest of the tax paying public to have to pick up the slack.

In the United Kingdom there are still some nomadic types of people, such as Irish gypsies, that constantly move around and this makes it very difficult to keep track of the taxes they have to pay. Instead of the government trying to address the problem in another way, such as regulating citizenship more through taxation, they simply taxed the public more to make up for the losses.

People over-reacted to the matter when in reality individually they did not have to pay too much. Still though one thing that cannot occur in the United Kingdom if you are a public official is trample on people's perceived basic rights. This will never fly with the English and the people will always get their way in this realm.


@jmc88 - I agree with you completely but I will even take it a step further and say that there could be an argument that a poll tax violates basic rights of humanity and can be seen as a case of a government being perceived as extorting money from citizens.

In reality the more people you have in the household the more you will get taxed. This is completely understood by people, in most cases, however the issue with the UK law is that it flat out stated that this is the reason for the tax and was very open in implying its message.

This lead to cries of "no poll tax" and for the English government to get rid of this inherent law.

The United Kingdom is also seen as the birthplace of constitutional rights and liberties and this is well known to the English people. To have their rights trampled on, in their eyes, is an insult to them and they take protecting their basic rights very seriously.


Anytime there is something like a poll tax it will bring a response from the voting public. Poll taxes are considered controversial and tend to be argued as completely going against ones right to live and taking advantage of people, who have a lot of members in the household.

The biggest issue about the poll tax, except in the United States where it has a different usage, is that you have to pay a certain amount extra for each member of the household. This should be expected, but the message that it sends is that if you have a larger family you are going to get taxed more just for being alive. This is why the British poll tax angered so many people and why support for an otherwise popular leader such as Margaret Thatcher lost so much support.

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