In 1662, the government of King Charles II introduced the Hearth Tax in England and Wales as a means of raising more revenue to help to fund a serious monetary shortfall. The tax liability for each householder was two shillings for each hearth, payable in two installments: one the 25th March (Lady Day) and the second on the 29th March (Michaelmas). This was only applicable to householders who paid church and poor rates and held property worth 20 shillings a year or more.
Exemption certificates were issued to those not liable to pay. This might have been because of poverty (individuals not meeting the liability thresholds) or because some industrial hearths and organisations such as charitable institutions were exempt. Many of these exemption certificates have survived.
The majority of the surviving records are the tax administration records that were returned to the Exchequer by royal officials for the periods 1662-1666 and 1669-1674. Together, the listings for these two periods represent the entire spread of counties for England and Wales and are of great importance to family history research.
The collection of the tax in the years other than during the royal officials administration periods was by private tax collectors. They paid a pre-determined and fixed amount to the government in return for which they were granted the privilege of collecting the tax. Very few records of these private tax collectors exist as they weren’t actually obliged to keep records and return them to the Exchequer.
In 1689 William and Mary repealed the hearth tax.
Hearth tax records can be found mainly within the exchequer records at The National Archives and some still remain in County Record Offices. Local record societies have published many hearth tax records, copies of which can be found in the National Archives Resource Centre and library.
Most of the hearth tax records that survive can be searched for in The National Archives E 179 Database, which contains medieval and early modern taxation records. Tax payers names are not included in the database which is searchable by place, date, tax and document type, but the names will be found in the records themselves. The original documents and/or printed transcripts can then be ordered for viewing.
The Centre for Hearth Tax Research based at Roehampton University London run and maintain the website Hearth Tax Online. They are working on compiling all the available hearth tax records and creating an online searchable database.