Here's what you need to know about student housing and council tax.
Council tax is a local tax on residential property. There are certain exemptions from paying the tax which are based on the type of people who live in the property. A property is exempt from council tax if it is wholly occupied by full-time university or college students. Student halls of residence are automatically exempt.
If your property is not exempt, certain people, including full-time students, are disregarded. This means that the council tax is calculated as if you do not live there. This may mean that whoever is liable to pay the council tax can get a discount.
Who counts as a full-time student?
You are a full-time student for council tax purposes if your course lasts at least one calendar or academic year for at least 24 weeks out of the year, and normally involves at least 21 hours of study, tuition or work experience per week during term time.
The local authority may ask for proof that you're a full-time student. You can ask for a certificate from your university or college which must provide it, unless more than a year has passed since your course finished. You can find more information about full-time students here.
How is council tax calculated?
A full council tax bill is based on at least two adults living in a property. A discount is applied for people living on their own, and for those who live with people who don’t count as adults for council tax purposes, for example, full-time students.
What happens if someone you share with isn't a full-time student?
If you live with someone who isn't a full-time student, the property will not be exempt from council tax and a bill will be issued. However, whoever is liable to pay the council tax might qualify for a discount. For example, if you share with an employed person or a part-time student, they will probably be liable for 75 per cent of the council tax bill. There is a 25 per cent discount because there is only one eligible adult in the property, you as the full-time student, are disregarded when counting the number of eligible adults in the property for discount purposes.
If you share with two or more employed people who are not students, they are likely to be liable for 100 per cent of the council tax bill, unless one or both of them qualifies as a disregarded person for council tax discount purposes. In this situation the local authority can only pursue the non-students for payment of the council tax bill. Special rules apply where you live only with your non-British spouse, partner or dependent. Speak to an adviser if you're in this situation.
If you live in shared accommodation
The owner of the property is liable to pay council tax if you live in a house in multiple occupation (HMO). For council tax purposes, a property that's occupied by more than one household or by one or more tenants each with their own tenancy agreement for part of the property is likely to be an HMO.
What happens if your home is exempt but you still get a council tax bill?
If you receive a council tax bill but you don't think you should have, you can apply for an exemption. In England, you can do this online here.
What happens if you need to take time off from your course?
Sometimes, as a full-time student, you may need to take some time out from your course, for example, because of an illness or family commitments. If you suspend your course but remain registered because you intend to go back, you should still be regarded as a student for the purposes of council tax.
Time off between courses
If you've finished one course and are waiting to start another, you may have to pay council tax. For example, if you've finished an undergraduate degree and plan to start a postgraduate course in the next academic year. You may be liable to pay council tax in these circumstances because you aren't within the formal period of either course.
Issues for Postgraduate Students
Some postgraduate students have difficulties proving they are a student for council tax purposes. This is because some study, tuition or work may not take place on the university or college campus or they are in the thesis ‘writing up’ stage of their course. However, you only need to be 'undertaking' a course for the necessary period of time and do not need to be physically attending university or college for that time. If this affects you, you may be able to challenge the local authority's decision and you should get advice from your students’ union or university’s advice centre.
For more information and for help if you have to pay council tax, click here.