Pub Quiz Manna – Why does the tax year start on the 6th April?

Written on 31 October 2013

It's that time of year already. Christmas yule logs are on sale in supermarkets, the clocks have gone back and nights are most certainly getting colder. Tonight we will hear the sounds of children taking to the streets to scoff the neighbours' candy, and all of these signs can only mean one thing. It's time to start thinking about your tax return.

That's right, the 31st of January will be here before you know it, and if you thought that Christmas is fast approaching, then the taxman is surely not far behind.

In this season of festivities we are all made fully aware of the traditions we are celebrating. Tonight we celebrate the Gaelic festival of Samhain, marking the end of harvest season and the beginning of the "darker half" of the year. Soon, on fireworks night, we celebrate the incompetence of Guy Fawkes, and then we are onto Christmas (no explanation needed) and so on and so forth into the New Year.

Why then does the tax year start on the 6th April? Surely it would make more sense to start on 1 January so that the end of the tax year could coincide with the calendar year?

In order to understand this better, let us travel back in time to 24 March 1751, when peasants and Kings alike were putting on their Sunday best, and awaiting the evening commute into London to sit by the river bank to watch the fireworks and see in the New Year. Long before the Gregorian calendar was adopted, the first day of the New Year was infact the 25 March, celebrating the Feast of the Annunciation, marking the visit of the angel Gabriel to the Virgin Mary.

The current calendar at the time was the 'Julian' calendar, named after the late Julius Caesar, which had been in effect since 42 BC. Whilst Caesar's calendar was reasonably accurate, it differed to the solar calendar by 11.5 minutes. Cue one easily irritable Pope looking to immortalise his name, and the Julian calendar was soon replaced by the Gregorian calendar, courtesy of Pope Gregory XIII. Like a metaphorical snowball rolling down a mountain of time, the 11.5 minute difference grew, such that when the Gregorian calendar was introduced the British Calendar was 11 days behind the rest of Europe.

In order to correct this, in 1752 the 3rd of September instantly became the 14th and everybody (most of all Pope Gregory) was indeed much happier. The Treasury however did not rejoice and sat, scheming ways to protect themselves from any potential loss in revenue (how times have not changed). In order to ensure they were at no loss, they announced that the tax year would run the usual length of 365 days, pushing the end of the tax year to the 4th of April, with the new tax year beginning on 5th April.

All was fine for the next 48 years until the turn of the century in 1800. Without a leap year in the Gregorian calendar (would have been a leap year in the old Julian system), the country was in a state of panic (unconfirmed). With a calm and relaxed breath, the Treasury simply moved the start of the tax year from the 5th to the 6th, and everybody slept better at night.

Thus ends the tale of the history of our tax year.

Seasonal? Hardly.

Interesting? Potentially.

Good information for the Christmas pub quiz tie breaker question? Most Definitely.