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Student Council Tax Exemption

Council tax is a tax that many students assume they will not be required to pay. 

However, it is a tax on the household and so whether there is tax to pay will depend on not only your circumstances but those of your fellow housemates. How much you will have to pay depends on if you (or your housemates) are full or part-time students, and where you live in the UK.

Find out more about:

What is council tax?

Students are exempt from paying any Council Tax if they live in university halls of residence, or in a house where everyone is classed as a full-time student.

The rules are different if you live with someone who is not a full-time student – but your household could still get a discount.

A place that is only occupied by full-time students is exempt from Council Tax. So if you live in university halls - or a house where everyone is a full-time student - you shouldn’t receive a Council Tax bill.

If you think you should be exempt but are still getting a bill, you can apply to the local council for exemption.

How do I know if I'm a full-time student?

Normally you will be considered a full-time student for Council Tax purposes if:

  • You attend a university or college course lasting for at least one academic year - this is as long as you attend for at least 24 weeks out of the year and study for at least 21 hours per week during term time.
  • You are under 20 and your course leads to a qualification up to (but not above) A level standard or equivalent, as long as it lasts for more than 3 months and involves more than 12 hours of study per week.

However, not all courses count towards 'full-time student' status.

For example, it doesn't usually apply to distance learning or evening classes. Also, you won’t be classed as a full-time student if you’re doing a course related to your job, e.g. day release.

You must also be studying at a 'prescribed place of education' - this will include established universities and most colleges.

In the end though, it's up to your local council to decide. If you're at all uncertain, contact them and check.

What if I live with someone who isn't a full-time student?

Council Tax is charged per 'dwelling' or household, and each household gets a single Council Tax bill.

If there's someone in the household who's not a full-time student the household will get a bill, but may qualify for a discount on the full amount.

How is council tax calculated?

A full Council Tax bill is based on two adults living in a household - if there’s fewer than two, the household can get a discount.

For Council Tax purposes, certain types of people are not 'counted' towards the number of adults in a household - the bill is worked out as if they weren’t living there. This includes individuals who are:

  • considered a full-time student for Council Tax purposes (please see Am I A Full-Time Student? above) doing a course which leads to a first registration as a nurse or midwife

Does it matter where I live?

Northern Ireland and Scotland administer this local tax differently to the rules in England and Wales.

For students living in Northern Ireland there is information available in this guide to rates. If you are renting your property you can find more information on the NI Direct website.

If you are a student living in Scotland and reside in a household where everyone is a full-time student then no council tax will have to be paid

Further information can be found in this student guide and at the Scottish government, which provides links to all the Scottish councils.

Council Tax discounts

A household where everyone is a full-time student is exempt from Council Tax and won’t get a bill.

If your household has fewer than two adults who are counted for Council Tax purposes, it will qualify for a discount on the full amount.

If there’s only one, you’ll get 25% off . If the household doesn’t have any adults who are counted - but is not exempt - it qualifies for a reduction of 50 per cent.

Be aware that the household may qualify for other forms of financial help on top of the student discount.

Applying for council tax exemption

To get a student discount on your Council Tax, you’ll need an official letter from your college or university giving details about you and your course.

If you are eligible then you can apply for a reduction through your local council.

Your eligibility will depend on:

  • Where you live
  • Your circumstances
  • Your household income
  • If your children live with you
  • If other adults live with you.

For more information and to apply in England and Wales see GOV.UK. For Scotland, see the Scottish government website. There is a different scheme in Northern Ireland.

Who is responsible for paying the bill?

While households can decide among themselves who contributes what, the law sets out who is actually responsible for paying the bill.

Members of a household are divided into categories - owner-occupier, tenant and so on - and for most households the person responsible is the one who appears nearest the top of the list which you can find in 'Council Tax - who pays and how much' on the Directgov website.

If there are two or more household members who fall into the same category, they’re usually jointly responsible for paying the whole bill.

However, the rules are different if you’re considered a full-time student or not 'counted' because you’re in education or training.

In this situation, you can only be held responsible if you - and only you - are in a category that's higher up the list than all other members of your household For example, you are an owner-occupier and everyone else in the house is a tenant.

Moving to new accommodation

If moving either within the same borough or to a new borough you should inform the relevant local council tax offices of your change of address and the date you moved.

Many local authorities have forms on their websites which you will need to complete.

Tenacy agreements and council tax

If you are a full-time student the conditions in your tenancy agreement should not take away your right to be treated as exempt from being an adult for the purposes of council tax, even if you have signed a contract agreeing to pay.

However, if there is a council tax liability (such as in the case when there are not all full-time students occupying the property) and you do not pay then your landlord may treat this as a breach of your rental lease agreement and make an attempt to evict you.

We recommend you seek independent legal advice as the protection you have against eviction will depend on the type of tenancy agreement you have.

What if I can't afford to pay my council tax?

If your household is liable to pay council tax and you are unable to reduce your council tax then you should contact your own specific council for advice.

If paying council tax would leave you in financial hardship (such as in the circumstances under What if I have a signed tenancy agreement to pay council tax?) then it may be helpful to contact your university to see if they can assist you with financial support.

Postgraduate students

If you are a postgraduate student writing up your thesis then usually you would not be able to get a letter from your university stating you are a full-time student.

To apply for an exemption, you may be able to obtain a similar letter from your supervisor, and/or ask for guidance from your university’s advice service.

However, if you are a part-time student, claiming welfare benefits and writing up your thesis then you cannot claim a council tax exemption, but you may be eligible for a reduction.

International students

If you are an international student in the UK living with your partner, you may have to pay council tax.

It depends on whether your partner is:

If your spouse and/or civil partner is either:

  • A British citizen;
  • An EEA or Swiss national
  • Settled in the UK with indefinite leave to enter or remain.

If they are any of these, then the household will not be exempt, since they will count as an adult. If your partner is the only person who is not a student living in the household, then a discount may be available, although you will need to check this with your local council.

If your spouse or civil partner are the only people who are not students living in the house and they are not a British Citizen and have limited permission to stay in the UK then the household should be exempt.

This exemption needs to be applied for by sending your local authority tax office a copy of your spouse or civil partner’s immigration permission with the wording from their Biometric Residence Permit or passport as well as proof of your student status.

Further information