Who is a "student"?
You will only qualify for a student exemption or be disregarded as a student if you meet the Council Tax definition of ‘student’. Having a Tier 4 visa is not necessarily sufficient to meet this definition.
You will count as a student for Council Tax purposes if you are:
(i) under 20 years old, and studying for a qualification up to or equivalent to A level or Higher Scottish Certificate of Education on a course lasting 3 months or more involving a minimum of 12 hours a week daytime study;
(ii) a foreign language assistant working in a school or educational institution and registered with the British Council;
(iii) studying and enrolled at an institution in the UK, or in another country of the European Union, on a course which:
(a) lasts at least one academic year, or one calendar year if your educational institution does not have academic years; and
(b) requires you to undertake the course for at least 24 weeks a year; and
(c) involves at least 21 hours study, classes or work experience a week during term.
The following information applies to you if you meet paragraph (iii), i.e. you are undertaking a ‘full time course of study’. This applies from the day that your course starts, so be aware that some local authorities may charge Council Tax for the period from your arrival in the UK to the day before your course starts. You will stop being regarded as a full time student if you give up your course, if your institution terminates your studies, or if your course ends. You may therefore be charged Council Tax for the period after you have finished one course and are waiting to start another, but you should not be charged during any vacation periods that fall between terms or semesters whilst your course is ongoing.
Providing you meet the requirements at paragraph (iii), you may be considered to be a full time student for council tax purposes if you are:
- a distance learning student,
- writing up your thesis or dissertation (so long as you remain enrolled at your college or university during this time),
- studying full-time at an educational institution in Europe for part of your UK course, or
- studying full-time at an educational institution in Europe and are in the UK undertaking a work placement as part of your course.
You may not be deemed to be a full time student for council tax purposes if you are:
- living in England and Wales and undertaking a course with a work placement where the period of time on work placements exceeds the total combined periods of study or tuition, unless you are undertaking a course of initial teacher training;
- undertaking a condensed course, where the total period of study has been reduced to less than an academic or calendar year;
- undertaking re-sits or repeating part of a course that does not require 21 hours or more study per week;
- writing up your thesis or dissertation, and your college or university does not enrol students during this period;
- an NUS or Student Union sabbatical officer and are not studying full time (if you have not completed your studies then the situation is less clear);
- being sponsored by your institution under the doctorate extension scheme and have completed your doctorate; or
- a postgraduate doctor or dentist.
If you are unclear about whether you covered by the definition of student for council tax purposes, or for what period you are covered, you should seek specialist advice.
Deferring or interrupting studies
Sometimes a student needs to take time off from their course. If you miss a few classes because of illness, this will not affect your Council Tax exemption or discount. If you suspend studies for a longer period (for example, because of a long-term illness, or to re-sit examinations), and you are expected to return to the course at a later date, this may be referred to as intercalating, a deferral or suspension by your college or university.
If you have a Tier 4 visa then in most cases you would need to leave the UK during such a period of absence from studies, because the institution will be suspending your Tier 4 sponsorship.
If you do not have a Tier 4 visa, and therefore you can stay in the UK during such a period of absence, you may still be regarded as a student for Council Tax purposes if you continue to be enrolled on a course that meets the requirements of the definition of full time study in point (iii) above, unless you have completed, abandoned, or are no longer permitted your college or university to undertake the course.
The Council Tax bill only takes into account people who are ‘solely or mainly’ resident in a dwelling. If you are in the UK for a short period (for example, you are on a short course, and the total amount of time you spend in the UK will only be for a few months), the local authority may accept that you are not ‘solely or mainly resident’. If this is the case, the Council Tax bill for where you stay will not be affected. Local authorities decide sole or main residence on a case by case basis. However if you are deemed to be ‘solely or mainly’ resident in the UK and your course does not last for one academic or calendar year, then you will not meet the definition of student, so the relevant exemptions or disregards may not apply to you.
Academic visitors do not qualify as ‘students’ for Council Tax purposes, so you will usually be counted as a resident adult for the bill. However, you may be able to argue that your accommodation in the UK is not your ‘sole or main residence’, especially if you are in the UK for only a few months (see short courses).
If you are studying for a nursing qualification then you may come under the main definition for a full time student if you meet the requirements in paragraph (iii), in which case, you may be exempt from paying Council Tax.
If you do not meet the full time student definition then you will not be exempt from paying council tax. However, you may be deemed to be a ‘disregarded’ person when the council tax bill is calculated.
A ‘student nurse’ for discount purposes means a person undertaking a course, which, if successfully completed, would lead to a first registration with the Nursing and Midwifery Council, as a nurse or midwife.
If you are undertaking a work based qualification as part of an NHS apprenticeship then you will not count as a ‘student’ for the purpose of an exemption, but you may be deemed to be an ‘apprentice’, who can be ‘disregarded’ when the bill is calculated.
Proving that you are a "student"
Each local authority will decide what evidence of student status it needs. If you are required to provide evidence of your status, your institution is obliged to provide you with a Council Tax certificate (usually a printed statement), free of charge, confirming that you are a full time student or student nurse. The local authority will usually accept this.
You may be refused a certificate if you ask more than one year after you have finished your course, as there is no legal duty for your institution to supply such a certificate, although many will continue to do so.
Some local authorities now have online forms for you to complete, and may have arrangements with local colleges and universities to enable them to verify a student’s status directly, rather than relying on the provision of a certificate, so it is advisable to check your local authority’s website for its procedure.
Although your institution may be required by law to provide you with a certificate, a student certificate is not required in order for you to qualify for a discount, and information in an alternative form from your college or university should be deemed to be satisfactory evidence of your status. However, if you do not provide information in the format of a certificate, your local authority may not accept this and you may need to challenge this by pursuing an appeal.
If you are a foreign language assistant and therefore not following a course of study, the fact that you are registered with the British Council and are appointed to an institution should be sufficient evidence of your status.
Council tax liability prior to 13 May 2011
The student definition described here has applied since 13 May 2011. If you have been found liable for a bill for a period before 13 May 2011, then you may need to seek specialist advice to establish whether a student exemption or disregard should apply.