31 March 1990 A Trafalgar Square riot after a 200,000-strong protest against the Community Charge – AKA the poll tax – prompted the downfall of prime minister Margaret Thatcher in November that year.
- Millions of people across the UK had refused to pay the tax causing the local councils that collected it cash-flow problems.
- More than one million people went missing from the electoral roll to avoid paying
- By June 1990 one in five of the UK population had paid no Community Charge.
- The tax was replaced in 1993, by which time 88% of people were refusing or delaying payment.
The system was brought in to replace household rates, based on the house’s size. Instead, each person in a home had to pay a charge. It meant a lord in a manor house paid the same as a school-leaver sharing a home with parents and siblings.
The Community Charge was first launched in Scotland, where the protest started. Tommy Sheriden, then part of the Militant socialist group and later a Scottish MSP, was the leading figure. Anti-poll tax groups sprang up around the country to defend non-payers threatened with bailiffs.
Although councils that took action against people to recover unpaid tax can continue to do so, there was six-year limit on starting legal cases. By 1 April 1999, six years after the final year of the Community Charge, more than 400,000 people had refused to pay more than £5m in tax that would never be paid.