The UK Fiscal Year

The UK Fiscal year runs from 6th April to the following 5th April. This may seem a most unusual date for a year to end on, and it is! The reason why it does so is an historic one.

The old Roman calendar (attributed to Romulus) originally began on 1st March and had 10 months, January and February were added later and from 153 BC annual appointments were made from 1st January.

The length of the year varied and in 46 BC Julius Caesar (who was then Pontifex Maximus) called in an Egyptian astronomer named Sosigenes to correct the calendar. The necessitated a year of 445 days, known as the year of confusion, and resulted in the Julian Calendar with a 365 day year and a leap day added every fourth year in February.

During the 7th Century AD the spread of Christianity led to Christmas day becoming recognised as the first day of the year. In the 12th Century, however, the Church decreed that the year should begin on Lady Day (25th March, the feast of the Annunciation of the Blessed Virgin).

The Julian Calendar was based on the supposition that the length of the year is 365.25 days, whereas it is in fact 365.2422 days. Thus by 1582 the calendar was 10 days out, and to rectify this Pope Gregory XIII proclaimed in that year that 5th October should become 15th October, and that thereafter of the end of Century years only every 4th, beginning with 1600, should be a leap year. This leaves an error of 0.112 days per 400 years, which is to be rectified by providing that the year 4000, 8000 and so on shall not be leap years. The remaining error is 1 day in every 20,000 years.

Roman Catholic countries soon adopted the Gregorian Calendar, but England (behind Europe then as now) did not; furthermore our legal year began on 25th March, so that for example, December 1660 was followed by January 1660. England's reckoning was thus 10 days behind that of the continent, and after 1700, which was a leap year in England, the difference became 11 days.

In 1752 Great Britain adopted the Gregorian Calendar by omitting the 11 days from 3rd September to 13th September, despite the consternation of the ignorant who believed that their lives were being shortened. At the same time 1st January was adopted as the beginning of the year, and the day after 31st December 1751 became 1st January 1752 - so that there was no January 1751!

1752 was a leap year, and the previous leap year had been 1748, which in the new style would have been 1749, so that the 1752 leap year came only 3 years after the previous one.

Faced with a year of only 354 days and a rushing national debt, the Government decided to extend the fiscal year. However, but for the adoption of the new calendar, February 1753 would have been 1752 and therefore a leap year would have occurred, so as to ensure that the fiscal year 1752/53 still had 366 days, the fiscal years was extended not by 11 but by 12 days, from 24th March to 5th April.

No Government in the intervening years has had the common sense or courage to amend the fiscal year to a sensible date.

As a result of the shared history the Irish Republic has been likewise cursed with this silly year end. However, the Irish Government have brought forward proposals to amend their fiscal year end date to 31st December.

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