Do students pay council tax?
Everyone's situation is different, so working out if you need to pay council tax can be a headache. But, with this guide, knowing if you're exempt will become much simpler.
As far as adult responsibilities go, paying council tax is one we'd rather do without. But if you're a full-time student we have some excellent news: it's likely you don't have to pay it.
Don't spend your council tax fund (or put it in a savings account) just yet, though. There are some situations where you might have to cough up some money, even if you're a student. Read on to discover if you qualify for council tax exemption.
What's in this guide?
What is council tax and what does it pay for?
Council tax is a yearly charge paid in 10 or 12 monthly instalments throughout the year. It's charged per household rather than per person and is calculated by the value of your property.
Properties in Britain are divided into different value bands. In England and Scotland, the bands are A–H, while it's A–I in Wales.
Your home's council tax band depends on two factors: where you live and the value of the property. In England and Scotland, the value is how much the house was worth back in April 1991. In Wales, it's what the value was in April 2003.
The tax you pay goes straight to your local council. They use this cash to pay for things like rubbish collections, street cleaning, local schools and roadworks. In Scotland, your council tax also covers water and sewerage. Lovely.
If you're in Northern Ireland, there's good news and bad news. The good news is that you don't have council tax, as Northern Ireland didn't adopt the system when it was developed in the 1990s. The bad news is you still have domestic rates – the system which council tax replaced in the rest of the UK.
Do students pay council tax?
Any household occupied exclusively by full-time students will qualify for a full council tax exemption. There is no age limit to this policy, so full-time mature students are covered too.
So, if you and all of your housemates are full-time students, you should be exempt from paying council tax.
To be classified as a full-time student, you must be on a course that lasts at least a year and requires at least 21 hours of study each week.
Part-time students will usually need to pay. However, you could be eligible for a reduction based on other factors. This includes being the only non-full-time student in the household, as we'll explain in a second.
We've even heard of part-time students being eligible for exemption as they're still studying for more than 20 hours a week. But don't bank on this. Always check with your council for the specifics.
If you're in a shared house with both full-time students and non-students, you'll get a council tax bill through the door each month. However, only the non-student tenants will have to pay it, as full-time students are still exempt.
So, if all of you are full-time students apart from one person who's not, they'll have to pay the bill themselves. That said, they will receive a single-person discount of 25%.
With this in mind, choose 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 may have a hefty bill to pay. Aside from the financial issues, this could cause tension in the house and make it difficult to survive shared living.
Qualifying for council tax exemption
To qualify for council tax exemption, the council needs to consider you to be a 'disregarded person'.
You're 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. If you're unsure of your particular situation, check out the government's council tax page or contact your local council.
Do postgraduate students pay council tax?
As an undergraduate, you won't have to pay council tax during the summer breaks between academic years.
However, you will have to pay for the summer months at the end of your final year. This is still the case even if you're going straight into postgraduate study when the next academic year starts.
This is because there's a gap between finishing your undergrad course and starting your postgrad. During this time you're technically not a student, so you're no longer exempt.
If you're a postgraduate student taking some extra time to finish your thesis over the summer, things are a bit more complicated. This is officially outside of course time so, again, you're no longer exempt.
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...
How to apply for student council tax exemption
Depending on how your local council prefers to do things, getting your exemption can take a few minutes, a few days or even a few 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' (often shortened to 'student certificate') in order to prove that you're in full-time education.
You can get a student certificate from your university. Normally this is from the admissions office, but your uni should say this on their website. Once you have your student certificate, simply post it to your local council.
Other unis have online systems which you can log into yourself. These can automatically generate a letter and send it to the council, saving you all the work.
If you're unsure who your local council is, the government has a handy tool that could be worth looking at.
What to do if you're wrongly charged council tax
If you've been sent a council tax bill when you shouldn't have, you'll need to write to your local authority to explain why it's wrong.
At this stage, you may not need to send evidence of your status as a full-time student, like a student certificate. But you may need to in future, as your council is unlikely to grant you an exemption based on your word.
Your council has two months to respond to you. If you disagree with their decision, 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. They may make the rules, but they're not always 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. Amazingly, they only made the correct decision (to exempt the students from paying council tax) once the BBC contacted them.
So, in short, know the rules and regulations and stand your ground if you're in the right.
Paying council tax during summer and study breaks
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. If you're studying an undergraduate degree for three years, you won't have to fork out during the summer months between terms. This is true even if you start working full-time during the summer.
If you've started your course but are deferring to take a gap year, good news. It's unlikely that your uni will go to the effort of de-registering you and making you register again when the next academic year begins. As such, you probably won't have to pay council tax during this break period (but that's by no means a guarantee).
In short, your exemption kicks in the day your course starts and continues until the day your course ends. And, to clarify, this is the final day of your final semester, rather than the day you graduate.
Your council tax exemption covers you while you're on holiday and when you're not studying. So, if you do end up paying any council tax, you should be entitled to a refund.
Should you pay council tax before you've moved in?
We've seen various reports of councils charging students for the time between their tenancy starting and the date they move in.
Some councils admit this is a mistake as soon as they're challenged. However, others have dug their heels in and insisted they're in the right. They often argue that the property is technically unoccupied until you've physically moved in. And if you're not living there, they say the exemption for students doesn't apply and 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 above, your council tax exemption kicks in from the day your tenancy agreement starts. It doesn't matter if you're actually living there.
If your council sends you a bill on these grounds, get in touch with them as soon as you can to appeal it. You shouldn't be paying!
Find out more about student tax refunds (including info on income tax and National Insurance) in our complete guide.