Housing Help | Students and Council Tax

What is Council Tax?

Council Tax is a tax on domestic properties ("dwellings") which have been valued and put on a list.  It is a tax on the property and not on the individual, so each property only gets one bill.  Some people still refer to it as "Poll Tax" or "Rates" - these were domestic taxes before Council Tax was created.

Frequently Asked Questions

1. Is my dwelling exempt?

A dwelling is automatically exempt if it is a Hall of Residence or some other University controlled property solely for the use of students.  This does not include student houses rented from private landlords on the accommodation list.

A house whose only adult occupants are full-time students is an exempt dwelling if all the occupants are:

  • Defined as full-time by the University or studying 21 hours per week or more, and/or

  • Qualifying students under 20 years old studying at least 12 hours per week, and/or

  • Placement students, and/or

  • Full-time International students and their spouses (if the spouse is not a British or EEA Citizen and s/he is prevented under immigration rules from either taking paid employment or claiming benefits).

If the dwelling is exempt, then no-one in the house should have to pay council tax on it.  If you get a bill, you need to make sure the council gets proof that all the residents fall into one of these categories.

If your council says it has no proof of your student status, speak to the University Information Centres (Cadman Building, College Road, Stoke; Brindley Building, Leek Road, Stoke; Royal Shrewsbury Hospital; or Blackheath Lane, Stafford).

You will not usually need to do this because information on student status is routinely shared with Council Tax offices, but no system is ever perfect.

2. Full-Time Students living in shared dwellings

Full-time students living with non-students (e.g. parents, partners, part-time students (see section 3), graduates, and children aged over 18) are usually not liable for Council Tax in respect of any day after April 6th 2004 (the date of a change in the law). See section 4 for the only exception to this.

When the bill for the dwelling is calculated, students are "invisible" - they are disregarded. But the dwelling itself will attract Council Tax if other people live there.

  • If there is only one adult non-student in the house, the Council Tax bill should be reduced by 25%.

  • If there is more than one adult non-student in the house, it will attract a full Council Tax bill.

When a dwelling is defined as a "house in multiple occupation" (containing more than one separate household), the landlord may be liable for the Council Tax.

3. Part-Time Students, placements, repeat years and intercalating/suspending studies

If you have always studied part-time on your current course, you are treated like a non-student and will therefore both be “visible” for Council Tax and possibly be liable for the bill (see section 4).
If you are on a placement year, this is treated as a year of study, in the same way as the rest of your course, for Council Tax purposes.
If, however, you are undertaking a repeat of a full-time year of study on a part-time or “dormant” basis; or if you have suspended your studies; you are usually treated as if you are a full-time student provided that you intend to return to full-time study. There are some possible exceptions to this, so seek advice if you are in this situation and get billed for Council Tax.

4. If the house attracts a bill, who has to pay it?

Full-time students (see sections 2 and 3) in the house would only be legally liable to pay the bill if it is in respect of a period before April 2004; or if they live with one or more non-students and are higher up the following list than all the non-students. Otherwise, the person who is liable will be the person highest up the following list.

  1. Resident who owns the freehold

  2. Resident with a lease

  3. Resident with a secure/assured tenancy

  4. Resident licensee

  5. Any other resident (e.g. a squatter)

  6. The owner of the house if s/he does not live there.

The person highest up this list is liable to pay the bill.  If two or more people are jointly highest on this list, they are "jointly and severally liable" for the bill (if the bill isn't paid, the council can chase anyone who is "jointly and severally liable" for the entire amount of the bill).

5. Summary

  • If the dwelling is exempt and you get a bill, prove the exemption to the council.

  • If the dwelling is not exempt, check whether the bill should be reduced.

  • If the dwelling is not exempt, check whether you are liable to pay the bill.

  • If you're liable to pay and can't afford it, get advice early - this problem won't go away!