Do students have to pay council tax?
Council tax is a tax on the household and so whether there is tax to pay will depend on the circumstances of you and your fellow housemates
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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. Factors that will affect how much council tax you have to pay, if any, include if you (or your housemates) are full-time or part-time students and where you live.
The UK left the European Union (EU) on 31 January 2020 and entered a transitional period, currently due to end on 31 December 2020, during which EU law continues to apply in the UK. The UK’s relationship with the EU beyond the end of the transitional period has not yet been finalised. Please note that the guidance below reflects the law as it applied before the UK’s departure from the EU, and as it will continue to apply throughout the transitional period.
On this page we answer the following questions:
Council tax is a primary 'local tax' in the UK, although in Northern Ireland the equivalent tax to council tax is called rates. The money collected through these property taxes goes to local authorities (councils) to pay for local services such as maintaining parks, collecting rubbish, policing and personalised care.
Council tax applies to all properties, including mobile homes, caravans and boats whether they are rented or owned, which are used as the homes of individuals. These properties are described as domestic properties.
This property tax is based upon the value of the properties concerned, rather than the income of the individuals who occupy them. They bring in significant amounts of money, collecting much more than other taxes such as corporation tax, capital gains tax or inheritance tax.
Council tax is calculated for the year, 1 April to 31 March, and is based on when you are living in a property.
Council tax is generally payable by any household. If there is only one adult in a household then they may be eligible for a discount of 25%.
When calculating the number of members of a household certain groups are excluded such as full-time students and anyone aged under 18. There is a list of who is not classed as an adult for council tax on GOV.UK.
As a student you would be disregarded from being classed as an adult for council tax provided that:
- you are undertaking a full-time program of study, tuition or work experience at a recognised establishment;
- of at least one year;
- which lasts at least 24 weeks in each academic or calendar year and;
- which amounts to an average of at least 21 hours per week in each academic or calendar year.
However, once you reach the official end date of your course you will be classed as an adult for council tax purposes and will no longer be exempt as a student.
Also, if you start to live in the property before your course starts, you may be charged council tax for that period.
Generally if you live in a household where everyone is a full-time student then the household will be exempt from paying council tax.
It is worth checking with your university’s advice and counselling service as many universities now deal with council tax on your behalf if you live in the local borough. If you do need to provide evidence then you will need to submit a certificate of enrolment to your local authority’s council tax office. This can usually be obtained from your student enquiries centre.
A new certificate of enrolment will need to be sent to your local authority’s council tax office at the start of each academic year.
It is your responsibility and not your landlord’s to make sure your local authority has the correct documentation.
However, it may be the case that you are not living in a household that is eligible for a full exemption.
For example, you or one of your household could be a part-time student. Or it may be the case that one of your household decides to leave their course and no longer be a student.
If it is the case that not all your household are full-time students then you may be able to reduce the amount of council tax that the household is required to pay. Although the local council set a rate of council tax for each band, this amount may be reduced by:
- exemptions – total removal from charge
- discounts – a partial removal from charge
- rebates – a reduction in the charge.
These exemptions, discounts and rebates are not necessarily applied consistently across councils so it is important to check the rules applied by your own specific council.
These are likely to be classed as ‘exempt dwellings’ so you do not have to pay council tax.
In this circumstance there is usually one council tax bill for the household. However if you are a full-time student you will be treated as exempt for the purpose of council tax, so you are not jointly liable with the person who is not a student.
Your housemates who are not students will be liable for the bill for the period in which they live there even if they are not named in the tenancy agreement.
However, if you have a legal interest in the property which is higher than your housemates who are not students then you will be liable for the council tax. For more information on this see the Citizens Advice Bureau website.
I am an international student living with my spouse and/or civil partner – do I have to pay council tax?
The position depends on the status of your spouse and/or civil partner.
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
then the household will not be exempt, as they will count as an adult. If your spouse and/or civil partner is the only person who is not a student living in the household, then a discount may be available. You will need to check 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.
Claiming an exemption from council tax does not count as claiming a public fund and so would not breach the conditions of your immigration permission if it states ‘no recourse to public funds’.
You should remain exempt provided the total time spent on the work placement does not exceed the total combined periods of study. You may have to provide a certificate of enrolment from your university confirming that you are a full-time student.
It is no longer required that you must physically attend a particular education establishment to be disregarded from council tax as a full-time student.
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. In order to apply for an exemption you may be able to obtain a similar letter from your supervisor, you should 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.
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.
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 take steps to try and 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.
If you own the property then you will be liable for the council tax and if you are renting it will depend on your rental lease agreement with your landlord; your own specific council will have more information.
If only one member of the household is not entitled to a full exemption then they would count as a single resident and could be entitled to the single person discount of 25% depending on your own specific council.
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.
Northern Ireland and Scotland administer this local tax differently to the rules in England and Wales.
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 be due. Further information can be found in this student guide and on the Scottish government website that provides links to all the Scottish councils.
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.
There is more information about how council tax is calculated and how you can reduce your council tax bill on our main LITRG website.
You can find a collection of government information about council tax on GOV.UK.
The Valuation Office Agency’s (VOA) technical manual for assessing domestic property for council tax is on GOV.UK.