In England, Lady Day – the Feast of the Annunciation of the Blessed Virgin Mary on 25 March – was the traditional New Year’s Day. Taxes for the year, due at the end of the year, were therefore due on 24 March. In 1752, when Chesterfield’s Act, 1750 (facsimile here) moved England from the Julian Calendar to the Gregorian Calendar (170 years after it had been promulgated), 1 January became New Year’s Day. At that stage, the two calendars differed by 11 days, so Wednesday 2 September 1752 was followed by Thursday 14 September 1752. However, although the calendar year moved, by virtue of section 6 of the Act, the tax year did not; and, as a consequence:
from 1753 until 1799, the tax year in Britain continued to operate on the Julian calendar and began on 5 April, which was the “old style” new tax year of 25 March. A 12th skipped Julian leap day in 1800 changed its start to 6 April. It was not changed when a 13th Julian leap day was skipped in 1900, so the tax year in the United Kingdom still begins on 6 April.
Hence, in the UK, where the tax year in the UK runs from 6 April in one year to 5 April the next, accountants and tax advisors are busy during March, that month of taxes, preparing the early April returns. In Ireland, we also used the year ending 5 April until 2001 when it was changed to match the calendar year, and the Budget moved from March to December (the 2001 tax year was nine months, from April to December). And, earlier this month, it was announced that the Budget would move back again, from December to October, so that it can be submitted to the European Commission for scrutiny to ensure that it complies with the EU law – though it does not look as though this will have any impact on the calendar fiscal year.
In the US, tax returns are due on 15 April, while 30 April is tax day in Canada (in Canada, it’s the anniversary of the controversial Meech Lake Accord of 1987; in many European countries, it’s Walpurgis Night). This makes April a more appropriate month of taxes than March, but to cavil with Ogden Nash runs the risk of being taken as seriously as Babbage often is for his correction of Tennyson; and in any event, Nash is right that, whatever month they’re due, the taxes last us all the year.
The US Tax Foundation calculates the day of the year the nation as a whole has earned enough money to pay off its total tax bill for the year, and designates that day as tax freedom day . In the US, it usually falls in April each year. In the UK, it usually falls in May. In Canada, it usually falls in June. I’d hate to think what the equivalent date in Ireland is this year (in 2008, it was 30 March; in 2010, it was 27 April; but it will be much much later this year). In any event, whatever tax freedom day falls, Nash is still right: the taxes last us all the year.