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.
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, it's worth noting that there are some situations where you might have to cough up some monies for it, even if you're a student. Read on to find out if you qualify for council tax exemption.
What's on this page?
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. Council tax charges are made per household rather than per person, and are calculated by the valuation of the property you're living in.
All UK properties 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.
Could you be exempt from paying council tax?
Any household which is occupied exclusively by full-time students will qualify for a full exemption on council tax.
To qualify for exemption 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.
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, but only non-student tenants will have to pay it – students are 'disregarded'.
If you have a situation where all of you are full-time students apart from one person who's not a student, unfortunately (for them at least!) they'll have to pay the bill themselves, but 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 bit of a raw deal if they have no other taxpayers to split the bill with.
As mentioned previously, to qualify for council tax exemption you need to be studying full time – part-time students still need to pay (but could be eligible for a reduction).
Qualifying for council tax exemption
To qualify for council tax exemption, the council needs to consider you to be a 'disregarded person'.
You'll be disregarded 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 (so already finished studying but not yet fully qualified)
- An apprentice working towards a qualification, earning no more than £195 a week.
There are a few exceptions to these, so if you're unsure of your particular situation check out the government's official council tax page.
How to apply for council tax exemption
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) and post it to your local council.
Other universities have online systems which you can log into yourself and it will automatically generate a letter and send it to the council.
So essentially, the speed of this process will depend on how efficient your uni and council are!
If you're struggling to get the right contact details for your local council, the Gov.uk site also has a handy list of contact details that could be worth looking at.
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 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.
Should you pay council tax before you've moved in?
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 and appeal it – you shouldn't be paying!
Do postgraduate students pay council tax?
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 will be a gap before you officially start your next course where 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...
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.