What is council tax and how to get student council tax exemption?
Council tax is a charge in the UK that is paid in 10 or 12 monthly installments throughout the year. Council tax charges are calculated per household rather than per person and are also measured by the value of the property you’re living in.
All properties in Great Britain (Northern Ireland is exempt) are divided into different value bands such as A–H in England as well as Scotland and A–I in Wales. Your home’s council tax band depends on your postcode and how much the property was worth back in April 1991 for English properties, or April 2003 for properties in Wales.
The tax you pay monthly goes directly towards your local council for things like rubbish collections, street cleaning, local schools, and roadworks, etc. In Scotland, the council tax you pay also covers water and sewerage. Lovely.
If you’re based in Northern Ireland, the good news is that you don’t have to worry about paying council tax. Northern Ireland didn’t adopt the system of council tax when it was introduced in the 1990s. However, domestic rates are applied there, it is the system in which council tax is replaced in the rest of the UK.
This article brought to you by Kampus Group will delve into what is council tax and how to get student council tax exemption.
Do students pay council tax?
Any household which is occupied entirely 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 one year and requires at least 21 hours of study per week.
Part-time students will usually need to pay council tax but could be eligible for a reduction based on other factors such as being only non-full-time students in the household. In some instances, part-time students are eligible for exemption as they’re still studying for more than 20 hours a week. It is good to look into what the requirements are with your council.
If you live in a shared house with both full-time students and non-students, you will get a council tax bill through the door every month. Only the non-student tenants will have to pay it, as full-time students are still exempt from this condition.
So, if you have a situation where all of you are full-time students apart from one person who’s not, unfortunately (for them) they’ll have to foot the bill themselves. That said, they will receive a single-person discount of 25%.
Therefore, it’s worth being wise in choosing your flatmates before moving into a new property. If you have a mix of students and non-students in the household, those who aren’t in full-time education can end up with quite a big bill to pay. Aside from the financial inconvenience, this could cause tension in the house.
How to get student council tax exemption
To get student council tax exemption the council needs to consider you as a ‘disregarded person’.
Student council tax exemption will be applied 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 20 years old (your course must last at least three months and you must study for the duration of 12 hours a week)
- Under 25 and taking specific types of training courses, like government training schemes
- A full-time student’s ‘overseas partner’ (this includes child, spouse or civil partner who is not legally permitted to work in the UK)
- A student nurse
- An apprentice working towards a qualification, earning no more than the amount of £195 per week
- There are a few exceptions to the above, 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 or contact your local council
Do postgraduate students pay council tax?
As an undergraduate, you won’t have to pay tax during the summer breaks between your academic years. However, you will have to pay for the summer months at the end of your final academic year (even if you’re going straight into postgraduate study when the academic year starts again).
This is because there’s a period of time between finishing your undergraduate course and starting your postgraduate which you won’t technically be a student anymore…
If you’re a postgraduate student that is taking a bit of extra time to finish writing your thesis over the summer, this can actually make it more challenging to get a student council tax exemption as this is technically outside of course time.
However, a way to get student council tax exemption is to move back home for the summer.
If you can provide evidence to your local council that you’re moving away as soon as uni is over, they won’t send you a council tax bill. This is assuming your parents will cover your share of their council tax bill…
How to apply for student council tax exemption
Regarding student council tax exemption…some councils in the UK will ask you to ring them up and give them your name, student number and uni course. They’ll arrange your exemption electronically while you’re on the line to a member of staff.
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 get a student certificate from the university that you go to (normally from the admissions office), and post it to your local council.
Other universities have online portals which you can log into yourself. This will automatically generate a letter and send it to your council.
If you’re unsure who your local council is, the government has a handy tool to identify this or ask your university for further assistance.
What to do if you’re wrongly charged council tax
If you’ve been wrongly taxed, you’ll need to write to your local authority to explain why this is incorrect.
At this point, you may not need to send evidence of your status as a full-time student such as a student certificate. You should be prepared to do so in the future, as your council is unlikely to grant you an exemption purely based on your word.
They have two months to respond to your student council tax exemption 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 then appeal to the Valuation Tribunal. The service itself is free, but you’ll have to pay for any other costs you incur from this.
And, to reiterate, if the initial decision from the council doesn’t seem plausible don’t just accept it on the assumption that as they make the rules the decision is accurate.
In one instance from a BBC documentary in 2020, cases of wrongly billing students caused the council to alter their decision to exempt students from paying council tax.
Paying council tax during your study breaks and the summer holidays can be a bit of a grey area for students in the UK.
The easiest way to work out whether you’ll have to pay or are exempt is to establish how long you’ll be registered on your course at your university. If you’re doing an undergraduate degree that lasts for the duration of three years, you won’t have to fork out during the summer months in-between terms, even if you start working full-time during the summer period.
If you’re deferring your course after having already started to take your gap year, it’s unlikely that your university will go to the effort of de-registering you. Therefore, you probably won’t have to pay council tax during this break period… but this is not guaranteed.
Essentially, your exemption kicks in the day when your course starts and it will continue until the day your course comes to an end. This also includes while you’re away on holiday or whether you’re studying. If you do end up paying any council tax when you shouldn’t have to, you’ll likely be entitled to receive a full 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?
There are 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 of charging council tax and not exempting students from council tax as soon as they’re challenged… members have dug their heels in and insisted they’re in the right… They often argue in this instance that the property is technically unoccupied until you’ve physically moved into the place. The exemption for students doesn’t apply in this instance and therefore council tax must be paid.
If your local authority sends you a council tax bill on these grounds that we have mentioned in this article about how to get student council tax exemption… please get in touch with them as soon as you can to appeal it – you shouldn’t be paying at all!