Derision at tax law that ‘demeans’ women

Wednesday March 9 2016

Models a mock queue along Mombasa road near Nyayo National Stadium to demonstrate the frustration of queuing while filling returns at KRA on June 3, 2015. PHOTO | SALATON NJAU | NATION MEDIA GROUP

Models a mock queue along Mombasa road near Nyayo National Stadium to demonstrate the frustration of queuing while filling returns at KRA on June 3, 2015. PHOTO | SALATON NJAU | NATION MEDIA GROUP 

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A law that requires husbands to pay their wives’ taxes has been derided by the public as backward and out of touch with reality, with many saying it is oppressive and only serves to subordinate women to their husbands.

The contentious legislation, which is contained in the Income Tax Act of 1974, states that husbands are responsible for paying taxes for their wives unless the wife files her own tax returns.

This means that should a woman fail to remit taxes, the Kenya Revenue Authority will go after her husband.

The law applies if the woman is self-employed and living with her husband, and is borrowed from the days when a woman was taken to be entirely dependent on her husband.

Once the couple separates or if they keep separate homes, then the onus is no longer on the man to pay this tax.

“The income of a married woman living with her husband shall be deemed to be the income of the husband for the purpose of ascertaining his total income, and shall be assessed on, and the tax thereon charged on, the husband,” states the Income Tax Act, under which the law falls.


Although the Income Tax Act has been amended multiple times since it was enacted, the clause requiring husbands to file tax for their wives has somehow been allowed to slip through.

According to Ms Alice Owuor, a domestic taxes commissioner at KRA, most women do make their own declarations of income independent of what their husbands might file.

“Granted that married women also have Personal Identification Numbers (PIN), most of them do a personal declaration, even though some husbands do a consolidated declaration. For this reason, it’s purely a matter of choice between the couple,” she said.

She added that the contentious law will be under review soon so as to make it easier for people to file their taxes.

“The government has shown its commitment to modernising the tax statutes and in particular those aspects that complicate tax compliance. For this reason, KRA is looking forward to the review of the Income Tax Act, which is a process to be spearheaded by the National Treasury,” she said.

Indeed, the tax return form issued by the Kenya Revenue Authority every year has a category where a man is required to state his wife’s source of income.

Should the wife be self-employed it is up to the man to declare her taxes and accept liability for them.

In cases where the wife is employed, the law does not apply because her taxes are automatically deducted from her payslip by the employer as (Paye As You Earn (PAYE).

The Act only excuses the husband from paying this tax if the woman chooses to file separate tax returns, but this decision, too, is at her discretion, meaning that a married woman could go her entire married life putting her tax obligations on her husband’s bill; and there is nothing the man can do but pay.

Failure to comply exposes the man to legal repercussions where he is liable to pay a fine for any unremitted taxes.

“Where any amount of tax remains unpaid after the due date, a penalty of 20 per cent shall immediately become due and payable,” the Income Tax Act says.

A section of the public, however, thinks this law is outdated and out of touch with modern day realities.

Mr Samuel Njoroge, a 32-year-old businessman living and working in Nairobi who has been married for eight years, says it is ridiculous for men to pay their wives’ taxes.

“I was not previously aware of this law but I think it is foolish that it is in effect to date. Times have changed. Women should pay their own taxes because they are earning their own money,” he said.

And according to 65-year-old Benson Kanyuga, a security guard in Nairobi, what he earns is not enough to pay for his needs, let alone the added burden of his wife’s tax.

“I have been married for over 40 years and during that time I have been responsible for most of the bills my family has incurred, including school fees for our children. I do not think it’s fair to ask me to pay my wife’s taxes as well,” he said. He however added that if he made more money he would consider paying his wife’s taxes.

Women, too, are against having their taxes paid by their spouses.

Mr Judy Angwenyi, a 29-year-old businesswoman who declined to give her marital status, said that it is laws like this that drag women’s progress backwards.

“I am a self-reliant woman and I pay my own taxes, thank you very much. Asking men to pay our taxes means that they will treat us as commodities and they will never respect us,” she told the Nation. She added that as long as a woman is earning her own money, then she has a responsibility to pay her own taxes.

Cecilia Mueni, too, thinks that women should pay their own taxes. The 38 year old who says she has been married for around 20 years told Nation that it is unfair for a man to take responsibility for another adult.

According to advocate of the High Court Lemper Suyianka, an aggrieved husband can seek legal recourse to fight the legislation.

“This law is unconstitutional because the constitution clearly states that paying tax is an individual civic duty, hence you cannot make husbands suffer because of their wives’ decisions no to pay tax. This law must be revised to reflect the dynamics of a changing society,” he said.