Council Tax

Last modified: 25 February 2016

Council Tax is set by local authorities in England, Scotland and Wales to pay for local services that they provide, such as rubbish collection, the police and the fire brigade. It is based on the value of the house, flat or other accommodation (in this information these are all called ‘dwellings’) in which you live.

There is no Council Tax in Northern Ireland but there is a different local tax which students may have to pay called Rates. For more information speak to your Students’ Union or institution’s advice service. The Northern Ireland government also publishes useful information.

Many students’ “dwellings” are exempt from the Council Tax:

  • Accommodation provided by the university or college that is occupied only or mainly by students (for example, a hall of residence or student house)
  • Other dwellings (for example, a privately rented flat) occupied only by students
  • Other dwellings occupied only by students and their dependants, who are not British citizens, and are prevented, by the terms of their UK immigration permission, from taking paid employment or from claiming benefits (for example a spouse with PBS dependant leave that has a condition that they have no recourse to public funds

A dwelling is not exempt if you are living with your non-student spouse, civil partner or adult dependant, and they are:

  • an EEA or Swiss national, or the family member of an EEA or Swiss national, who is exercising a right of free movement in the UK, or
  • a British citizen, or
  • settled in the UK (with indefinite leave to enter or remain).

If your dwelling is not exempt, there will be a bill.

The bill

Last modified: 03 December 2015

A Council Tax bill is based on two main elements:

  • the value of the dwelling, and
  • the number of adult residents age 18 or over who are solely or mainly resident in the dwelling.

Living with non-students

Last modified: 02 October 2015

If you live with adults who are not students, and who are not related to you, there will be a bill for the dwelling. You cannot be held jointly liable to pay the bill, for example if you are a joint tenant with the non-student(s). However you may still be liable for a bill if you are the only liable person, or if all the jointly liable people are students.

If you are living with someone who has immigration permission as a Tier 4 (General) student because they are a sabbatical officer, are on the doctorate extension scheme, or are a postgraduate doctor or dentist, then they may not be considered to be a 'student' for Council Tax purposes, even though they are sponsored under Tier 4. You will need to seek advice from your institution's advice service or Students' Union, in order to find out what their status is in relation to Council Tax, and whether they will be considered to be 'disregarded' for the purpose of the Council Tax bill.

If the only non-student adult in your dwelling is your spouse (husband or wife), civil partner or an adult dependant, the dwelling may still be exempt.

The dwelling should still be exempt if your spouse, civil partner or dependant is not a British citizen, and has been given permission to be in the UK (given ‘leave to enter’ or ‘leave to remain’) with a ‘no recourse to public funds’ condition or a prohibition on employment endorsed in their passport, or on their UK identity card ('Biometric Residence Permit' or 'Identity Card for Foreign Nationals'). This covers almost all spouses, civil partners and dependants from outside the European Economic Area (EEA) or Switzerland who come to join an international student in the UK. The Council Tax section of the UK government's website sets out the entitlement to exemption for full-time students.

Some local authorities have refused to recognise that a dependant who has permission to work in the UK but has a ‘no recourse to public funds’ condition is exempt from Council Tax. This generally happens because while the law says that the concession is for a dependant who is prevented from taking paid employment or from claiming public funds, the local authority may interpret the word "or" to mean "and" rather than "either .. or...". In May 2012, Mr Justice Sales in the High Court dismissed such an interpretation by the London Borough of Harrow on this basis, in a case specifically about the council tax liability of the dependant of a student. The judgment confirmed that local authorities should be applying the latter "disjunctive" meaning of "or", not the cumulative meaning, and that it is sufficient for a spouse to meet one of the requirements, not both. If you wish to appeal against your local authority's interpretation of "or", you should seek advice and / or support from an adviser at your institution, your Students’ Union, your local Citizen’s Advice Bureau or a local solicitor. Tell them that the High Court judgment reference is Harrow London Borough Council v Ayiku [2012] EWHC 1200 . An earlier judgment by Lord Denning in the case of Crosfield Electronics v Baginsky and Others [1975] 1 W.L.R. 1135 was not specifically related to council tax or to students, but did have same interpretation of the word "or".

The dwelling will not be exempt if your non-student spouse, civil partner or adult dependant living with you in the dwelling are:

  • An EEA or Swiss national, or the family member of an EEA or Swiss national, who is exercising a right of free movement in the UK
  • A British citizen
  • Settled in the UK (with indefinite leave to enter or remain)