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How do my individual circumstances affect council tax

How do my individual circumstances affect council tax?

I live in student halls of residence

If you live in Queen Mary residences or other student halls which are occupied only or mainly by full-time students, these are classed as ‘exempt dwellings’ by your local authority so you automatically do not have to pay council tax. However, if you are on a short course and live in a private student hall you may be liable for council tax.

I live in privately rented accommodation with other students

If you meet the definition of a full-time student and you share privately rented accommodation only with other full-time students, you will not have to pay council tax, but each resident will need to provide proof to the local authority council tax office that they are are full-time students (see How do I claim Council Tax exemption)

If you are studying on a short course of less than 24 weeks, and this will be immediately followed by an undergraduate or postgraduate degree course, it is our understanding that you are unlikely to be granted an exemption for the short course because you would not meet the eligibility criteria for a full-time student because of the course duration. You can ask the Student Enquiry Centre for a letter confirming you are on the short course, and you could try submitting that to your local authority along with an offer letter for your degree course to show that the two courses combined will total more than 24 weeks, but they may decide that you will not be granted council tax exemption until you enrol on the degree course. 




I live with non-students

If you live with non-students, there will usually be a council tax bill for your dwelling. However, as a student who is ignored for council tax you will not be jointly liable for paying the bill with other residents of the same status or legal interest in the dwelling as you, for example joint tenants or joint residents. The non-student residents will be legally responsible for paying the council tax. Even if they are not named on the tenancy agreement, they will still be liable as residents of the dwelling for the period they are living there.  However, if you have a higher status or legal interest in the dwelling to the non-student resident(s), for example, if you own the dwelling and a non-student is lodging with you, you will be liable for the council tax. This is sometimes known as the hierarchy of liability. For more information about who is liable for council tax see the Citizens Advice Bureau council tax guidance:

If you live with just one other adult who is not a full-time student, they will count as the only resident in the dwelling. This means they will usually get a 25% single occupant discount on their council tax bill.

If you live with two or more adults who are not full-time students, there will usually be a full council tax bill for the dwelling.

I am an international student living with my spouse or civil partner in privately rented accommodation

If the only non-student adult you share your dwelling with is your spouse or civil partner, who is not a British citizen and who currently has limited permission to stay in the UK, e.g. as your dependant, and the wording on their Biometric Residence Permit (BRP) or passport states that they have no recourse to public funds or that employment is prohibited, then your dwelling should be exempt. To apply for council tax exemption you need to send your local authority council tax office a copy of your partner’s immigration permission with the wording from their BRP or passport as well as proof of your own student status.

Some local authorities decided that unless the wording on a spouse’s or civil partner’s passport or ID card states they have both no recourse to public funds and a work prohibition, they will still be liable for council tax. However, 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 not be applying the cumulative meaning of “or”, and that it is sufficient for a spouse to meet one of the requirements, not both. The High Court judgement reference is Harrow London Borough Council v Ayiku [2012] EWHC 1200 and you can read the decision here:

If you quote this case to your local authority and they continue to require your spouse or partner to pay council tax, contact a Welfare Adviser in the Advice and Counselling Service, who will usually be able to advise you about making a complaint or an appeal – see later section ‘Council tax disputes’.

Note: Claiming council tax exemption does not count as claiming a public fund. If your passport or Biometric Residence Permit states you have ‘no recourse to public funds’ you can still claim council tax exemption without breaching the conditions of your immigration permission in the UK.

I live at home with my parents who are getting Council Tax Reduction*

If you live at home with your parents and they are claiming Council Tax Reduction, being a full-time student should not affect the amount of benefit they get as you would normally be classed as a ‘non-dependant’, that is another adult living with them who is not liable for council tax. As that person would usually be expected to contribute to the household expenses, a set deduction, called a non-dependant deduction, would be made from their benefit for any other adult(s) living with them. However, if that non-dependant is a full-time student, no non-dependant deduction should be made.

If a non-dependant deduction is shown as being made for you on your parents’ council tax bill, you need to provide proof of your student status to your local authority council tax office, and request that no non-dependent deduction is made. If your request is refused, contact a Welfare Adviser in the Advice and Counselling Service for advice about making a complaint or an appeal against this decision – see later section ‘Council tax disputes’.

*(see later section, ‘Can I claim Council Tax Reduction?’)

I have signed a tenancy agreement agreeing to pay council tax

The conditions in your tenancy agreement cannot take away your statutory rights to be ignored for council tax if you are a full-time student, so even though you have signed a contract agreeing to pay, your landlord cannot force you to do this and the local authority also cannot pursue you for the money.

Your landlord could however see this as a breach of your tenancy and take steps to try and evict you. Depending on the type of tenancy you have, you might have only limited protection against eviction. If you want to stay in the dwelling, you might therefore want to consider paying the council tax even though legally you do not need to.

Similarly, if you are sharing with other students and only one non-student, then the one non-student would normally have to pay the whole council tax bill less the 25% single occupancy discount, if everyone in the property has an equal status or legal interest in the dwelling. If, for example the dwelling is large and there are five people sharing, this could mean the one non-student having to pay a considerable sum of money. In cases like this, you might informally agree to make a contribution towards the bill even if legally you do not need to.

If you fall into one of the above categories and decide that it is in your interests to pay council tax but by doing so you will be in financial hardship, you could apply to the Financial Assistance Fund at QMUL for financial help.

You can only apply to the Financial Assistance Fund (FAF) if you meet the FAF eligibility criteria. See the FAF guidance notes to check your eligibility and for more information.

Contact a Welfare Adviser in the Advice and Counselling Service if you would like help applying.

I’m interrupting or resitting out of attendance

If you are interrupting or resitting out of attendance, provided you are registered on a full-time programme of study, you continue to remain exempt from paying council tax, unless you are in the final year of your programme. If you have actually completed attendance on the taught part of your programme and you are only resitting out of attendance to complete the final assessment parts such as final exams or coursework, some local authorities will consider that you are no longer eligible for the student exemption and you will have to pay council tax.

You may be able to claim Council Tax Reduction - see later section, ‘Can I claim Council Tax Reduction?’ Contact a Welfare Adviser in the Advice and Counselling Service for more advice about this.

If you are an international student, you normally cannot remain in the UK if you are interrupting or resitting out of attendance. See The Advice and Counselling Service advice guide ‘Resitting, interrupting or leaving your course – a guide for international students’

I’m retaking on a part-time basis

If your academic school has allowed you to retake a year on a part-time basis, perhaps because you only need to retake a couple of modules, you are still classed as being enrolled on a full-time programme and so you remain exempt.

I’m a part-time student

If your course is a designated part-time course, you will not be exempt from paying council tax. However, you may be able to claim Council Tax Reduction – see the later section of this advice guide, ‘Can I claim Council Tax Reduction? If you are not sure whether your course is a designated part-time course, check with the Student Enquiry Centre or Research Degrees Office, Ground Floor, Queen’s Building:

I’m on a work placement

If you are on a sandwich course which includes a work placement, you should remain exempt from council tax liability as long as the total time spent on the work placement does not exceed the total combined periods of study. Usually the work placement element of a sandwich course is one year, and you will be studying at Queen Mary for three years, so during the sandwich placement you should normally continue to be regarded as a full time student and exempt from council tax liability.

I’m a PhD student writing up

If you are writing up you will not be able to get a letter from the university stating you are a full-time student. To claim your council tax exemption, you need to provide a letter from your supervisor that confirms that you are still a full-time student.

There is no requirement that you are paying full-time tuition fees. If you meet all of the requirements in the sample letter below, you should qualify for council tax exemption. Your supervisor or Head of School will need to decide whether these requirements are being met, and if so, they will need to provide a letter for you to send to your local authority council tax office. You could show your supervisor the example letter below for guidance. In addition to the suggested wording below, it would also be useful if the supervisor’s letter includes information about any attendance which is required at the university, for example for discussion, supervision, assessments, etc.

Some local authorities might insist that PhD students writing up are physically present on campus for the required hours in order to be exempt from council tax liability. However, in May 2011 the High Court ruled that the requirement for a person to attend a course does not require physical attendance at any particular place. The High Court ruled that the requirement to attend would be met in the case of a person “subject to a degree of supervision, in some appropriate contact with the academic authorities, but doing the substantial part of his work in a library, or at home”.

If your local authority refuses your council tax exemption, contact a Welfare Adviser in the Advice and Counselling Service as we can advise you about making a complaint or an appeal – see later section ‘Council tax disputes’.

Example letter:

I am the supervisor of _________________, who is currently studying for a PhD in the School of ____________________ at Queen Mary, University of London. She/he began this programme on ________________ and is expected to complete it by __________.

Although __________________ is no longer paying full-time fees, I can confirm that she/he continues to be a full time student as her/his current programme of study lasts at least one academic year of more than 24 weeks and involves more than 21 hours of study per week.
Writing up can be undertaken within the School, or in a library, or at the student’s home, but they are in contact with me for supervision purposes.

If you are a ‘home’ student who is claiming welfare benefits on the basis of being enrolled as writing up part-time, you will not be able to claim council tax exemption but you may be eligible for Council Tax Reduction (see next section).

I’m a clinical research fellow

If you are undertaking research which is both paid and funded, you may be exempt from paying council tax. This will depend on whether the university is treating you as a full-time student or as an employed member of staff.  If your status at Queen Mary is as a full-time student, you will be exempt.

What about summer vacations and periods immediately before or after my programme?

If you are a recent school leaver under the age of 20 and left school on or after May, you should be disregarded for Council Tax purposes between 1 May and 31 October of the same year.  You may need to provide evidence of your course, school completion date and age to the relevant Council Tax Office for this to be considered.

You will only be able to claim council tax exemption as a full-time Queen Mary student from the official start date of your course, once you have enrolled.

If your programme is longer than one year, you are exempt from paying council tax during the summer vacation(s), in between academic years.

Your student council tax exemption will end on the official end date of your programme, as you will no longer be a full-time student after that date.

If you finish one programme and then enrol on another, you would be liable to pay council tax in the gap between the two programmes. For example, if you completed an undergraduate degree in June and then enrolled on a Masters course starting in September, you would need to pay council tax between the end date of the undergraduate course and enrolment on the Masters.


What about the period between the official end date of my course and my graduation date?

Once your course has officially ended, you will become liable to pay council tax so you will no longer be exempt. Check your Queen Mary council tax exemption letter for the official end date of your course.

If you have to sit final year exams in August, Queen Mary cannot change your official course end date. This will remain on MYSIS as the last date of term in June. Therefore, no new end date will be sent to the Council if you live in one of the boroughs where Queen Mary sends an electronic confirmation of your student status, and for other students, Queen Mary cannot provide a new official Council Tax letter with an amended course end date.

We understand that the Student Enquiry Centre may be able to give you a letter which will include your original course end date but with a sentence explaining that you also have exams to sit in August. You could take this letter to the Council and ask whether they will extend your Council Tax exemption to the end of your August exams, but we do not know if this will be successful or not. 

Law, regulations and policies can change quickly. The information on our website is given in good faith and has been carefully checked but QMUL cannot accept responsibility for any errors or omissions. QMUL is not responsible for the content or reliability of the linked websites which are provided for further information.

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