Poor Relief Act | Settlement Act 1662

In 1601 the Poor Law Act (43 Eliz) was passed, putting the administration of the poor rates into the hands of each individual parish. Some parishes were more generous than others, which led to some exploiting the legislation by moving into these more generous parishes. The ratepayers objected to this abuse, and in 1662, the Settlement Laws were passed to prevent it. Unfortunately, the laws also reduced labour mobility and discouraged the unemployed from leaving the parish of their birth to find work.

The Poor Relief Act 1662 (14 Car 2 c 12) was an Act of the Cavalier Parliament of England. It was an Act for the Better Relief of the Poor of this Kingdom and is also known as the Settlement Act or, more honestly, the Settlement and Removal Act. The purpose of the Act was to establish the parish to which a person belonged (i.e. their place of "settlement") and hence clarify which parish was responsible for him should he become in need of Poor Relief (or "chargeable" to the parish poor rates). This was the first occasion when a document proving domicile became statutory: these were called "settlement certificates".


After 1662, if a man left his settled parish to move elsewhere, he had to take his Settlement Certificate, which guaranteed that his home parish would pay for his "removal" costs (from the host parish) back to his home if he needed poor relief. Parishes were often unwilling to issue such certificates. People often stayed where they were – knowing that they would be entitled to their parish's poor rate in an emergency.

The 1662 Act stipulated that if a poor person (that is, resident of a tenancy with a taxable value less than £10 per year, who did not fall under the other protected categories) remained in the parish for forty days of undisturbed residency, he could acquire "settlement rights" in that parish. However, two JPs could remove the man and return him to his home parish within those forty days upon any local complaint. As a result, parish bosses frequently dispatched their poor to other parishes, with instructions to remain hidden for forty days before revealing themselves. This loophole was closed with the 1685 act (1 Jam II c.17), which required new arrivals to register with parish authorities. But sympathetic parish officers often hid the registration and did not reveal the presence of new arrivals until the residency period was over. As a result, the law was further tightened in 1692 (3 & 4 Will & Mary, c.11), and parish officers were obliged to publicly publish arrival registrations in writing in the local church Sunday circular and read to the congregation, and that the forty days would only start counting from thereon.

The Settlement Laws benefited the owners of large estates who controlled housing. Some landowners demolished empty housing to reduce the population of their lands and prevent people from returning. It was also common to recruit labourers from neighbouring parishes so that they could quickly be sacked. Magistrates could order parishes to grant poor relief. However, often the magistrates were landowners and therefore unlikely to make relief orders that would increase poor rates.


The Settlement Act was repealed in 1834 (under the terms of the Poor Law Amendment Act 1834, which introduced the Union Workhouse), although not entirely. The concept of parish settlement has been characterised as "incompatible with the newly developing industrial system" because it hindered internal migration to factory towns. It was finally repealed by section 245 of Schedule 11 to the Poor Law Act 1927 (c.14) and the Statute Law Revision Act 1948.

Settlement Terms of Poor Relief Act

To gain settlement in a parish, a person had to meet at least one of the following conditions:-
  1. Be born into the parish.
  1. Have lived in the parish for forty consecutive days without complaint
  1. Be hired for over a year and a day within the parish – (this led to short hire lengths so that settlement was not obtained).
  1. Hold an office in the parish.
  1. Rent a property worth £10 per year or pay the same in taxes.
  1. Have married into the parish.
  1. Gained poor relief in that parish previously.
  1. Have a seven-year apprenticeship with a settled resident.
After 1662, if a man left his settled parish to move elsewhere, he had to take a Settlement Certificate which guaranteed that his home parish would pay for his 'removal' costs from another parish back to his home parish if he became a claimant on the poor rates. Naturally enough, parishes were unwilling to issue such certificates. Hence, people tended to stay where they lived — and where they knew that if the occasion arose, they could claim on the poor rates without any additional difficulty.

The Settlement Laws were a tremendous economic advantage to the owners of large estates where they controlled the housing. It was not unknown for landowners to demolish empty houses to reduce the population on their lands and prevent the return of those who had left. At the same time, they would employ labourers from neighbouring parishes: these people could be laid off without warning but would not increase the rates in the parish where they worked.

Although magistrates could order parishes to grant relief to the poor, this did not often happen since the landowners were also the magistrates and were unlikely to make relief orders to increase the poor rates.

These laws continued until the passing of the 1834 Poor Law Amendment Act when they were abandoned along with Wiandarlier legislation pieces. These included Knatchbull's Act (1723) and Gilbert's Act (1782); the Speenhamland System was also abolished by the 1834 Act.

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