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Student Accommodation

How to get student council tax exemption

Working out your council tax eligibility can be a headache, particularly as all living situations are different. But, with this guide, knowing if you're exempt from paying will become much simpler.

Woman with hand up, council tax demand notice

Credit (foreground): Ljupco Smokovski - Shutterstock

As far as adult responsibilities go, paying council tax is one we'd all rather do without. If you're a full-time student, though, we've got some very good news: it's more than likely you don't have to pay it!

But, before you go spending your council tax fund (or putting it in a savings account), it's worth noting that there are some situations where you might have to cough up some money for it, even if you're a student. Read on to find out if you qualify for council tax exemption.

What is council tax and what does it pay for?

What the hell is that? Stranger Things

Credit: Netfiix

Council tax is a yearly charge paid in 10 or 12 monthly instalments throughout the year. Council tax charges are made per household rather than per person, and are calculated by the value of the property you're living in.

All properties in Great Britain (not Northern Ireland, as we'll explain in a moment) are divided into different value bands (A–H in England and Scotland; A–I in Wales). Your home's council tax band depends on your postcode and how much the house was worth back in April 1991 for English properties, or 2003 for ones in Wales.

The tax you pay goes directly towards your local council to foot the bill for things like rubbish collections, street cleaning, local schools and roadworks, etc. And, in Scotland, your council tax also covers water and sewerage. Lovely.

If you're in Northern Ireland, the good news is that you don't have to worry about council tax, as the country didn't adopt the system when it was introduced in the 1990s. The bad news is that you instead need to worry about domestic rates – the system which council tax replaced in the rest of the UK.

The even worse news is that most full-time university students in Northern Ireland usually aren't exempt from paying domestic rates, so you'll need to factor this into your budget.

No one likes paying tax if they can (legally and morally!) avoid it – it's definitely worth looking into tax-free ISAs for students to get the most out of your savings.

Do students pay council tax?

fresh meat student housemates

Credit: Objective Productions

Any household which is occupied exclusively by full-time students will qualify for a full exemption on council tax.

To be classified as a full-time student, you must be on a course that lasts at least a year and requires over 21 hours of study each week. Part-time students still need to pay, but could be eligible for a reduction based on other factors (including being the only non-full-time student in the household, as we'll explain in a second).

If you're in a shared house with both full-time students and non-students, you will get a council tax bill through the door each month. However, only the non-student tenants will have to pay it – full-time students are still exempt.

So, if you have a situation where all of you are full-time students apart from one person who's not, unfortunately (for them at least!) they'll have to pay the bill themselves. That said, they will receive a single person discount of 25%.

Therefore, it's worth choosing your flatmates carefully before moving into a new property. If you have a mix of students and non-students, those who aren't in full-time education can end up with a hefty bill to pay. Aside from the financial disparities, this could cause tension in the house and make it difficult to survive shared living.

Qualifying for council tax exemption

success kid meme

Source: KnowYourMeme

To qualify for council tax exemption, the council needs to consider you to be a 'disregarded person'.

You'll be disregarded from paying council tax if you're any of the following:

  • A full-time student (you've probably got that by now!)
  • Studying a course up to A Levels and are under the age of 20 (your course must last at least three months and you must study for at least 12 hours a week)
  • Under 25 and taking specific types of training, like government training schemes
  • A full-time student's 'overseas partner' (so child, spouse or civil partner who is not legally permitted to work in the UK)
  • A student nurse (who isn't already classified as a full-time student)
  • An apprentice working towards a qualification, earning no more than £195 a week.

There are a few exceptions to these, plus a few extra reasons you may be disregarded, so if you're unsure of your particular situation check out the government's official council tax page.

Do postgraduate students pay council tax?

Graduates throwing mortar caps

Although as an undergraduate, you won't have to pay tax during the summer breaks between academic years, you will have to pay for the summer months at the end of your final year – even if you're going straight into postgraduate study when the academic year starts again.

This is because there's be a gap before you officially start your next course, during which time you won't technically be a student anymore.

If you're a postgraduate student taking a bit of extra time to finish writing your thesis over the summer, this can unfortunately make it more challenging to claim exemption as this is technically outside of course time.

However, a good way to get around this is to move back home for the summer! If you can prove to your local council that you're moving away as soon as uni is over, they won't send you a bill. Of course, that's assuming your parents will cover your share of their council tax bill...

If you earn money from your own business or another side hustle which means you're self-employed, you'll have to pay income tax by filing a self-assessment tax return.

How to apply for student council tax exemption

couple calculating bills

Depending on how your local council prefers to do things, getting your exemption can take a few minutes or a few days (or weeks, if they're particularly sluggish).

Some councils will just ask you to ring them up and give them your name, student number and uni course, and they'll arrange your exemption electronically while you're still on the line.

Other councils might ask for what's called a 'certificate of student status' in order to prove that you're in full-time education. You can pick one of these up from your university (normally from the admissions office, but your uni should say on their website) and post it to your local council.

Other universities have online systems which you can log into yourself, which will automatically generate a letter and send it to the council.

So essentially, how long this process takes will depend on how efficient your uni and council are!

If you're struggling to get in touch with the right department at your local council, the Gov.uk site also has a handy list of contact details that could be worth looking at.

What to do if you're wrongly charged council tax

ed miliband saying it's wrong

Credit: Russell Brand

If you've wrongly been sent a council tax bill, you'll need to write to your local authority to explain why it's incorrect.

At this stage, you may not need to send evidence of your status as a full-time student – but you should be prepared to do so in future, as your council is unlikely to grant you an exemption based on just your word.

They have two months to respond to you, and if you disagree with their decision (i.e. you're confident that everyone in the house is a full-time student and they're still charging you), you can appeal to the Valuation Tribunal. The service itself is free, but you'll have to pay for any other costs you incur.

And, to reiterate, if the initial decision from the council seems odd to you, don't just accept it on the assumption that they make the rules, so they must be right.

In early 2020, we appeared on the BBC to discuss examples of councils not only wrongly billing students (for a reason we'll explain later), but standing firm in their position even after the students had appealed.

In one instance, the case went right to the top of the council and the correct decision (to disregard the students from paying council tax) was only made once the BBC contacted them.

So, in short, know the rules and regs and stand your ground if you're in the right!

Paying council tax during summer and study breaks

Cocktail on the beach

Paying council tax during study breaks and the summer holidays can be a bit of a grey area for students.

The easiest way to work out whether you'll have to pay is to establish how long you'll be registered on your course for. If you're doing an undergraduate degree that lasts three years, you won't have to fork out during the summer months between terms, even if you start working full-time during the summer.

If you're deferring your course after having already started to take a gap year, it's unlikely that your university will go to the effort of de-registering you and making you register all over again when the next academic year begins. Therefore, you probably won't have to pay council tax during this break period.

Essentially, your exemption kicks in the day your course starts and it will continue until the day your course ends (this is the final day of your final semester, rather than the day you graduate), including while you're away on holiday and when you're not studying. So, if you do end up paying any council tax when you shouldn't have to, you'll likely be entitled to receive it back as a refund.

Did you know that students also don't need to pay for a TV Licence over the summer break? Find out how to get a refund.

Should you pay council tax before you've moved in?

moving house box

We've seen and heard various reports of students across the UK being charged council tax for the period between their tenancy starting and the date they actually move in.

While some councils readily admit that this is a mistake as soon as they're challenged, others have dug their heels in and insisted they're in the right. They often argue that, as the property is technically unoccupied until you've physically moved in, the exemption for students doesn't apply and therefore council tax must be paid.

We can't stress this enough: if your council argues this, they are wrong. As long as you meet the criteria we outlined above, your council tax exemption kicks in from the moment your tenancy agreement comes into effect – regardless of whether you're actually living there or not.

If your local authority sends you a council tax bill on these grounds, get in touch with them as soon as you can to appeal it – you shouldn't be paying!

Hopefully we've answered all of your council-tax-related questions here but, if you're still unsure if you need to pay council tax, contact your local council directly.

Find out more about student tax refunds (including handy info on income tax and National Insurance) in our comprehensive guide.

Comments

JANET DINGEMANS

I am doing a certificate and diploma in technical hand embroidery through the Royal School of needlework. Does this count for a reduction in council tax?


Jake Butler

Hi Janet, you can check the eligibility above. I am not sure what courses qualify for a reduction though.


b hall

Hi, my son has just had a situation arise where he has a bill for when he had to start paying for his tenancy which was Aug 15 and when his course actually started which was Oct 15. I He did not move in until October but we had to pay rent to secure the house, Is there anything we can do about this?


Jake Butler

It should not matter what date you move in but simply the start date of the contract. As soon as the contract starts is when you have to begin paying (whether you are living there or not).


Daniel

I'm a mature student 37+ and I am exempt from paying council tax, the article mentions only under 25, I've completed a L3 Extended Diploma and will be going to uni in September the uni have also stated they would give me a certification letter to prove I am a full time student so I can get it again whilst I'm doing my degree.


Jake Butler

The article mentions if you are "any" and not "all" of the following... Being under 25 and on a government training schemes is only one type of person that is excluded, full time students are the other...


Jackie

Hi,
My daughter finished her A levels in June 2013 and then started College in Sept. I've been billed for the 2 months she was 'out' of full time education - is that right? She didn't work at all, but I'm told I lose my 25% discount for that period!


Hanna

Hi i'm starting my postgraduate MA course in September, am i entitled to council tax reduction? Thanks


Betina

Thanks for this article. Apologies in advance if I have misunderstood something along the way, but what is the situation if a flat is shared between one full-time postgraduate student and one professional? Is it possible that the student is exempt and the professional receives a single person discount of 25%? Thanks for the advice.


Jake Butler

Hi Betina, as far as I know you should be exempt and therefore the person you live with should be classed as if they are living there on their own. This means they will be liable to pay the bill but should receive a single person discount of 25%.


Teresa

Hi, my son has just submitted his PhD Thesis in October. He was funded this scholarship, which stopped in July.

Waiting on the outcome, and with no money, or job as yet. Is he still a Student or not?

As to claim Universal Credit.


Jake Butler

Sounds like he most likely won't be counted as a students if the study ended in July. I'd suggest calling his local council for clarification.


Fola

Hi,

Does distance learning with a recognised professional institute count for council tax discount?

The course involves attending virtual lectures and some physical presence at a location for workshops.

Also, the course is between 2 to 4 years duration.

Thank in advanced for answering!


Jake Butler

You will need to check with your council.


Jemma Scott

I'm in full time work but studying for my maths and English gcse part time. I currently live alone whilst claim single persons discount. Would I receive any other discount?


Jake Butler

Unfortunately not.


Megan

Hi, I've just took a leave of absence of 6 months from my adult nursing degree. Will I have to pay council tax during this time?


Jake Butler

Hi Megan, I believe you may have to pay for the time that you aren't a student. It's worth checking with your local council though.


Polly Brown

Hi, we have just found out our household should have been getting an exemption due to one of our children being severely disabled, but need to prove our other daughter who stayed at home while at university was in full time education.

She left university seven years , then did a further year on a PGCE at another university, but had to resit that year, so does anyone know how we could prove she was in full time education during these periods.

Thanks.

Jake Butler

Hi Polly, I'd contact the university to ask for a letter of proof.


Kauser

I live in student accommodation and studying part time. Do I need to pay council tax?


Jake Butler

Unfortunately part-time students are not eligible for council tax exemption.


Ruksana Kossari Kauser

I've been told by a bailiff that we don't apparently. He tells me as a full time student I only receive a 35% discount, so why is it an exemption. I don't know if he's lying


Jake Butler

Hi Ruksana, this does not sound correct. You get a 25% discount if you are a student living with 1 or more non students. However if your house is fully occupied by full time students who are classed as exempt then you should not have to pay any council tax. I would involve the council in this.


SP

If you're on a supplementary year due to ill health but your university classes this as 'part time-variable' do you have to pay council tax?


Jake Butler

I'm not sure I'm afraid. Please check with your local council.


Jeanette

My daughter starts her degree in September but her accommodation rental started at the beginning of July. She is not living there yet and will be sharing with 2 existing students. Will she have to pay during the summer months despite still being at home?


Jake Butler

Hi Jeanette, if the tenancy agreement that your daughter has signed is a 12 month one then yes she will have to pay the rent even if she is not living there.


Nina Patel

Hi, just wondering when we apply for the council tax exemption? we have signed the contract and will collect the keys in July, do we apply for it now, or once we have the keys? Thank you.


Jake Butler

I'd say it's worth contacting the council when your tenancy starts.


Liam

Hi, I'm registered as a full time student for the 4th year (writing up year) of my PhD but I'm just starting full time employment, would I still be exempt from council tax?


Jake Butler

HI Liam, I believe you should still be classed as a student but please contact your local council to clarify. Thanks.


Superb Muslimah

Hi, My son has reach the age 20,
his still in college studying fulltime and finishing his final year this July 2018, He will continue to study further in university his been offered a scholarship. Plus his working part time only weekends 6 hour a day.
He lives with with me, I received ESA (support group), also im a single parent. Does my son qualify for the council tax exemption and does it affect him because his working part time n studying Full Time.? It's so confusing when I look at the council tax bill. please help!!!!


Lee Ying Cheng

Hello. I just graduated and have one more month left in my contract. I got a council tax letter the other day saying I had to pay from July onwards to march 2019. Will I get an exemption because I'm planning to move out in August?


Jake Butler

Hi, unfortunately once you stop being a student you are no longer exempt from council tax (even if your contract continues after that date). It's likely that you will have to pay up to the date when you move out. You will not have to pay until March though, it's just the way which they send the bill.


Nicola reece

My son is a medical science student in London, and is living away from home, he started degree in Middlesex university London. After the first year , the university failed him, but, did not mark all of his work , he came home and applied to another university to do the same degree,,, this university accepted him, on condition he resat his first year , he chose to do this , and is now doing his final year at London metropolitan university, during the summer he has not cone home due to having a job, and in case he had re sits of exams , his home town where he lives originally has billed me council tax for his summer months , but he is still in London after 3 years and is going into his final year 3, on the 4th year, should i pay?


Jake Butler

Hi Nicola, this doesn't sound right. If your son is going back to university (or continuing) this year then he would still be a student and therefore be exempt from council tax. I would get in touch with your local council to make this clear and ask what they would advise.

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