Knowledge

Seven of the world’s daftest tax laws

Posted on Feb 11th, 2014 | Tax

Tax can be a funny affair. Always has been, and – apparently – always will be. Here’s a list of the seven silliest tax laws of all time, starting way back in the days of the Roman empire and ending back home in modern day Europe.

The steady income stream

The mad Roman Emperor Nero introduced a tax on the collection of urine. Back in those days, urine was stored in cesspools and could recycled for use in chemical processes, like preparing animal skins for tanning.

And you thought the taxman today was taking the piss…

Peter the Great hates your beard

In an attempt to modernise Russia in the early 1700s, the Tsar introduced a beard tax.

Any Russian wanting to keep his traditional beard had to pay an annual rate and was issued a ‘beard token’, which he had to carry with him in public to prove he’d paid.

The scaredy-cat tax

‘Scutage’ – from the Latin scutum, meaning ‘shield’ – was a tax first introduced during the reign of Henry I for English knights that didn’t fancy going to war.

It was originally very low and meant only as a deterrent, but King John raised rates by 300% and started taking collections even in times of peace. This made for some rather upset soldiers and eventually led to the formation of the Magna Carta.

Dancers will be asked to leave

In the American state of Washington, music venues were historically slapped with a hefty tax for giving customers the ‘opportunity to dance’.

The law was all-but-forgotten until recently, when the state decided to try and bring it back.

The re-introduction lead to anarchic scenes of happy people dancing anywhere they well bloody well wanted in protest.

Adjusted for inflation

Elsewhere across the pond, in 1988, a stripper called Chesty Love (not her real name, we’re assuming) successfully claimed a breast augmentation worth $2,088 as a business expense.

This paved the way for anyone in the adult entertainment industry to claim for any cosmetic surgery that could reasonably earn them more money from work. With the largest adult entertainment industry in the world, no wonder the US government is finding it hard to balance the books.

Cake-style biscuit or biscuit-style cake?

It’s a fervent debate that’s been raging for years – are Jaffa Cakes a) cakes, because they’re called cakes, of b) biscuits, because some random person said so once, even though McVities invented them and would surely know if they were biscuits. Besides which, why aren’t they called Jaffa Biscuits?! It makes no sense!

Anyway; under UK tax law, biscuits and cakes are deemed as necessities and are exempt from VAT. Chocolate covered biscuits, however, are luxury goods and taxed at 20%. This forced McVities to go and prove that Jaffa Cakes are cakes at a tribunal.

We’re glad to report that they won.

Harry Potter and the Educational Tax Relief

Sounds like one of J.K. Rowling’s less appealing books titles. Actually, it’s an interesting tax law from the Netherlands which allows tax deductions for those training in the art of magic and witchcraft.

A 39-year-old Dutch actress claimed £1,500 in tax relief in 2005 for a year-long course, which taught her the arts of potion making, spell casting and crystal ball reading. Where do we sign?

Need help with tax?

Modern taxation in the UK might not be this bizarre, but it can be tricky and time consuming to manage when you’re self-employed.

When technology can automate many of the mundane tasks, which traditional accountants would otherwise have to do manually, the result is cost-savings passed onto you.

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Written by Nick Chowdrey

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