Do students have to pay council tax?

Updated on 12 April 2023


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 whether you (or your housemates) are full-time or part-time students and where you live.

Illustration of a house, pound sign on a coin and the word tax

What is council tax?

Council tax is a ‘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. 

Council tax is calculated for the year, 1 April to 31 March, and is usually based on when you are living in a property.

Who has to pay council tax?

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:

  1. you are undertaking a full-time program of study, tuition or work experience at a recognised establishment;
  2. of at least one year;
  3. which lasts at least 24 weeks in each academic or calendar year and;
  4. 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.

There is an exemption if you are under 20 years old and studying for your A-levels, the conditions are explained on GOV.UK.

I am a full-time student – do I have to pay council tax?

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 to see if they offer any help in dealing with council tax. 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:

  1. exemptions: total removal from charge
  2. discounts: a partial removal from charge
  3. council tax reduction: a reduction in the charge.

These exemptions, discounts and reductions are not necessarily applied consistently across councils, so it is important to check the rules applied by your own specific council.

I am a student living in halls of residence – do I have to pay council tax?

These are likely to be classed as ‘exempt dwellings’ so you do not have to pay council tax.

I am living with at least one person who is not a student – do I 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.

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
  • 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 is the only person who is not a student living in the house and they are not a British Citizen then special rules apply and you may want to ask for guidance from a welfare rights adviser, such as Citizens Advice.

I am a part-time student – do I have to pay council tax?

If you do not qualify as a full-time student then you will not be exempt. However, you may be able to claim a reduction.

I am on a sandwich course including a work placement – do I have to pay council tax?

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.

I am a postgraduate student – do I have to pay council tax?

You do not have to 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 it depends on your university whether you will be provided with a letter from them stating you are a full-time student. As this varies between different universities you should ask for guidance from your supervisor or the university’s advice service.

However, if you are a part-time student then you cannot claim a council tax exemption, but you may be eligible for a reduction.

What do I do if I move accommodation during the academic year?

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.

What if I have signed a tenancy agreement agreeing to pay 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. If this happens then we recommend you seek independent legal advice.

Who is liable to pay the council tax if I am not entitled to a full exemption?

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.

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%.

What happens if I cannot afford to pay it?

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.

Does it matter which part of the UK I live in?

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

For students living in Northern Ireland there is information available in A 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 should be due. Further information can be found on the Scottish government website that provides links to all the Scottish councils.

How do I claim a council tax reduction (CTR)?

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 if you live in England and Wales see GOV.UK. For Scotland, see the Scottish government website. There is a different scheme in Northern Ireland.

Where can I find more information?

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.

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