This is an important utility bill, but there are several exemptions and discounts available for students – result! To make sure you’re paying what you should be, take a look at our quick guide to organizing exemption for yourself.

What is Council Tax?

Firstly, council tax is paid by anyone occupying a domestic property in the UK (with some properties not included). Council tax is collected by local authorities and organized into separate “bands” which are based on the overall value of the property in question. You can easily check out your local council tax band using the gov.uk website, or alternatively, check your rental agreement.

Money collected from council taxes is used to pay for road maintenance, street lighting, schools, and waste removal. The average council tax bill hovers at around £1671, or council tax band D, which is roughly £140 per month. Though council tax is usually billed for on a yearly cycle, you can request bills monthly. If you’re sharing a house with other students, you need to make sure that everyone is splitting the council tax bill fairly. A bill splitting app like Glide can make sure that all utilities are rolled into one and correctly divvied up between each of your housemates.

Who is eligible to pay Council Tax and who is exempt?

You don’t have to pay if you’re under 18. Couples living together are jointly liable as a couple, but also as individuals. Typically, the person occupying the property is liable – not the landlord – unless there is joint tenancy and the landlord has arranged for this, for example in properties like care homes or refuge centres.

To work out who is liable to pay the council tax, according to the Citizens Advice Bureau, the government uses a hierarchy system:

  1. A resident owner-occupier who owns either the leasehold or freehold of all or part of the property.
  2. A resident tenant.
  3. A resident who lives in the property and who is a licensee – this means that they’re not a tenant but have permission to stay there.
  4. Any resident living in the property, for example, a squatter.
  5. An owner of the property where no one is resident.

The person highest up on the list is normally liable to pay the bill. However, there are reductions, exemptions and discounts available. For example, if you are a full-time student on a qualifying course, a nursing student, or a foreign Language Assistant on a British Council program, you’re exempt, and your landlord will cover the bill. They may also pay other utility bills like water and gas. You are also exempt if you have a disability, but you need to notify the council of this.

Those who are under 25 on government training schemes or apprenticeships may also be exempt if they are working towards a qualification and earn less than £195 weekly. If you’ve left school or college after April 30th and are under 20, you are exempt from paying council tax until November 1st of that year – irrespective of your employment status. Part-time students need to pay.

If you pay council tax, it kicks in the moment your rental agreement does, and not on the day you move in. And in case you’re wondering, if you’re a student, you are still exempt from paying even during the summer holidays – and you’ll continue to be exempt so long as your university has you registered as a student, so enjoy it while you can!

Applying for Exemption of Council Tax Payment

It’s easy enough to apply for council tax exemption directly on the council website at gov.uk, but it’s wise to communicate with your landlord and rental agent as well, so everyone is clear on what you’ll be liable to pay. You could also try giving your local council a call – they are used to disregarding student tenants and will make sure that the council tax bill is going to the landlord, instead. It shouldn’t take more than a few days to process your request, but more information may be requested, so make sure you apply in time.

Wrongly Charged Council Tax? Where to Go for Help

Don’t panic – mistakes do happen. If you’ve been sent a council tax bill in error, it’s usually not a problem to query it and get a reversal. You can write to your council directly explaining why you believe you are exempt, and they will then decide whether to amend your bill or insist that you pay it. Even then, however, you can appeal the decision. Start at the gov.uk website and go from there. It’s important to sort out any discrepancies before the account falls into arrears. The Citizen’s Advice Bureau, your student advisor or landlord can also assist you.