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Chapter 20: Council tax
Basic facts
    Council tax is a local tax on residential dwellings.
    You do not pay council tax if you are under 18.
    Students sharing accommodation solely with other students do not pay council tax.
    Students sharing accommodation with non-students usually do not pay council tax.
    Students who own the home in which they live are liable, but may be exempt or get a discount or second adult rebate.
    Part-time students can apply for a council tax reduction. A full-time student liable to pay council tax can apply for a council tax reduction in some circumstances.
1. What is council tax
Council tax is a tax on residential dwellings paid to the local authority. It includes an amount for water and sewerage. There is one amount to pay and one bill for each dwelling unless it is exempt from council tax. A ‘dwelling’ includes a self-contained flat.
Each dwelling is allocated a valuation band from A to H based on property values in 1991. Council tax is lowest for those in Band A.
Some dwellings are exempt from council tax. If the dwelling is exempt, there is no council tax to pay for anyone who lives there or for a non-resident owner. There are exemptions specifically for students.
Although non-student flat/house sharers are normally jointly liable for the bill, full-time students are not usually liable to pay council tax unless they own the property. Those liable for council tax may get a discount or exemption if they live alone or if they share with students. The amount to pay may be further reduced if the person is eligible for council tax reduction or second adult rebate (see here and here).
2. Who pays council tax
If you are a student, there are two main ways in which you are exempt from paying council tax.
    The accommodation you live in may be exempt (see here).
    You may not be liable to pay any council tax (see here).
If neither of these applies, you may be able to reduce your council tax bill.
    You may be able to get a discount (see here).
    You may be able to get council tax reduction or second adult rebate (see here and here).
Who counts as a student
If you are aged under 20, whether you count as a student for council tax purposes depends on whether you are undertaking a full-time course of further or higher education. For older students, one rule applies whatever level of course you undertake. If you are an ‘articulating’ student of any age, you may count as a student between courses (see below). The course must be at a ‘specified institution’, which can include courses in EEA member states.1Sch 1 para 2(j) and Sch 2 CT(D)(S)CAO
 
1     Sch 1 para 2(j) and Sch 2 CT(D)(S)CAO »
Under 20 in further education
You are regarded as a ‘student’ for council tax purposes if you are aged under 20 and on a further education (FE) course of more than 12 hours a week, which lasts more than three months.1Art 6(1)(b) and Sch 1 para 1(a) CT(D)(S)CAO
An FE course is one below the level of a degree, Higher National Certificate (HNC), Higher National Diploma (HND) or Scottish Vocational Qualification (SVQ) level 4. It includes National Qualifications to Advanced Higher level, A levels and National Certificates. It does not include:
    further training of teachers or youth or community workers;2Sch 1 para 2 CT(D)(S)CAO
    evening classes;3Sch 1 para 1(d) CT(D)(S)CAO
    correspondence courses;4Sch 1 para 1(c) CT(D)(S)CAO
    courses attended if you are a trainee on a youth training course or an apprentice.5Art 6(3)(c) CT(D)(S)CAO
The hours that count are those required by the course rather than those you actually do, if they are different.
To work out your hours, average out over term times the hours required under the course for tuition, supervised study, exams, and supervised exercise, experiment, project and practical work.6Art 2, definitions of ‘relevant number of hours’ and ‘relevant activities’, CT(D)(S)CAO You can add together hours spent on more than one course if these are all at the same college.7Art 6(3)(a) CT(D)(S)CAO
You are regarded as a student for each day from the day you start the course until the day you complete it, abandon it or are dismissed from it.8Art 2, definition of ‘the relevant period’, CT(D)(S)CAO So you count as a student during term times, during short vacations at Christmas and Easter and during the summer if your course continues after the summer. If your course ends in the summer and you begin a different one in the autumn, you do not count as a student in the summer between courses.9Art 6(3)(b) CT(D)(S)CAO However, you might be able to get a discount (see here).
Example
Drew is 18 and taking three Highers at college. Including his classes, exams and supervised study, his course hours are 18 a week. He is a student for council tax purposes.
 
1     Art 6(1)(b) and Sch 1 para 1(a) CT(D)(S)CAO »
2     Sch 1 para 2 CT(D)(S)CAO »
3     Sch 1 para 1(d) CT(D)(S)CAO »
4     Sch 1 para 1(c) CT(D)(S)CAO »
5     Art 6(3)(c) CT(D)(S)CAO »
6     Art 2, definitions of ‘relevant number of hours’ and ‘relevant activities’, CT(D)(S)CAO »
7     Art 6(3)(a) CT(D)(S)CAO »
8     Art 2, definition of ‘the relevant period’, CT(D)(S)CAO »
9     Art 6(3)(b) CT(D)(S)CAO »
Under 20 in higher education
The rules are the same as those for people aged 20 or over (see below).
20 or over in further or higher education
If you are aged 20 or over, you are regarded as a ‘student’ for council tax purposes if the course requires you to undertake periods of study, tuition or work experience of at least 24 weeks each academic year, for an average of at least 21 hours a week.1Art 6(4)(c) CT(D)(S)CAO This includes distance learning.
To count as a student, you must be enrolled on a course with an educational institution. You are a student from the day you begin the course until the day you complete it, abandon it or are no longer permitted by the educational institution to attend.2Arts 2, definition of ‘the relevant period’, and 6(4)(e) CT(D)(S)CAO So if you take time out and are not enrolled on the course during this period, you do not count as a student for council tax purposes and may become liable for council tax. If this is the case, check whether you can get council tax reduction (see here). On the other hand, if you take time out but are still enrolled on the course, you continue to count as a student, provided you have not abandoned it completely and the institution has not said you can no longer attend the course. Because the law says you are not a student if you are ‘no longer permitted by the institution to attend’, this suggests that your dismissal from the course must be final. So you could argue that if you are temporarily suspended from the course but still registered, you still count as a student.
Your college or university determines the number of hours. You may need evidence from it to prove to the local authority that you count as a student. Colleges and universities are required to provide you with a certificate if you ask for one while you are a student or up to a year after you leave the course.3Sch 1 para 5 LGFA 1992 After that, they may still give you a certificate, but they are not legally required to do so. The certificate must contain:4Art 9 CT(D)(S)CAO
    the name and address of the institution;
    your full name;
    your term-time address and home address (if known by the institution);
    a statement that you are (or were) a student – ie, that you are enrolled on a course requiring attendance of at least 24 weeks a year and study of at least 21 hours a week; and
    the date you became a student and the date your course ends.
 
1     Art 6(4)(c) CT(D)(S)CAO »
2     Arts 2, definition of ‘the relevant period’, and 6(4)(e) CT(D)(S)CAO »
3     Sch 1 para 5 LGFA 1992 »
4     Art 9 CT(D)(S)CAO »
Articulating or direct entry students
You count as a student if you have finished an HNC or HND course and have an offer of a place directly into the second or third year of a degree course.1Art 6(1)(d) and (e) CT(D)(S)CAO To qualify, if you have completed a full-time HNC course in the last six months, you must have an offer of a place in the second year of a full-time degree course starting within this period. The same applies if you have completed a full-time HND course in the last six months, except that the offer must be of a place in the third year of a full-time degree course. See above for the definition of ‘full-time course’.
If you meet these rules but do not start the degree course, you do not count as a student for the period between the courses.
 
1     Art 6(1)(d) and (e) CT(D)(S)CAO »
Exempt dwellings
A dwelling is exempt from council tax if all the people who occupy it are in any of the following categories:1Sch 1 para 10 The Council Tax (Exempt Dwellings) (Scotland) Order 1997 No.728
    a student, or her/his overseas partner if s/he entered the UK on a visa that prohibits her/him from working or claiming benefits. If the partner has the right to work but not to claim benefits, arguably s/he should come under this exemption; or
    a care leaver aged 18–25; or
    someone under age 18; or
    someone under age 20 who left further education at school or college after 30 April – this only applies between 1 May and 31 October of the year s/he left school or college; or
    someone who is ‘severely mentally impaired’.
Halls of residence are also exempt dwellings. This applies if the hall of residence is mainly for students and is owned and managed by an educational institution, or where there is an agreement that the educational institution can nominate the majority of those who can stay in the accommodation.2Sch 1 para 16 The Council Tax (Exempt Dwellings) (Scotland) Order 1997 No.728
An unoccupied dwelling is exempt for up to four months if it is the main residence of a student (and not of anyone else who is not a student) and it was last occupied by one or more students. This allows an exemption to continue – eg, through the summer vacation. If you are liable for council tax (and anyone who is jointly liable with you is also a student) and the dwelling is no one’s main residence, the dwelling is exempt without a time limit.
If the dwelling is exempt, there is no council tax or council water charge to pay.3Sch 11 para 7(11) LGFA 1992
There are a number of other exemptions that are not specifically aimed at students. For details, see CPAG’s Council Tax Handbook.
 
1     Sch 1 para 10 The Council Tax (Exempt Dwellings) (Scotland) Order 1997 No.728 »
2     Sch 1 para 16 The Council Tax (Exempt Dwellings) (Scotland) Order 1997 No.728 »
3     Sch 11 para 7(11) LGFA 1992 »
Who is liable for council tax
Very few students are liable to pay council tax. Normally, either the dwelling is exempt because everyone who lives there is a student, or the non-students in the household are solely liable for the council tax.
If the dwelling is not exempt from council tax, at least one person is liable for the bill. There is a hierarchy to determine liability – the first person in the hierarchy is the one who is liable to pay. If there are two or more people at the same level, they are usually jointly liable, but there is an exception for students.
Council tax liability hierarchy
Resident owner
Resident tenant
Resident statutory, statutory assured or secure tenant
Resident sub-tenant
Other resident
Non-resident owner unless there is a non-resident tenant or a non-resident sub-tenant, either of whom have a lease of six months or more
If students share accommodation with non-students who are at the same level in the hierarchy, the non-students are liable but the students are not.1s75(4) LGFA 1992, as amended by s4 Education (Graduate Endowment and Student Support) (Scotland) Act 2001
Examples
Three students, Rahul, Will and Jameel, share a flat as joint tenants. While they are all students, the flat is exempt and there is no council tax to pay. Will drops out of his course. The flat is no longer exempt. Will is solely liable for the whole council tax bill (although there is a discount). Rahul and Jameel are not liable for any council tax. Will should apply for a council tax reduction if his income is low.
Christine is studying full time and owns the flat she lives in. She rents a room to a friend who is not a student. Christine is liable for the council tax. She gets a 25 per cent discount on the bill. Her friend is not liable for any council tax.
Raj is studying full time and owns the flat he lives in. He rents a room to a friend who is also a student. Raj is liable for the council tax, but as both of them are students, the flat is exempt and the bill is, therefore, nil.
 
1     s75(4) LGFA 1992, as amended by s4 Education (Graduate Endowment and Student Support) (Scotland) Act 2001 »
Couples
Normally, couples who live together are jointly liable for the council tax. Students, however, are exempt from this rule. If you are a student and have a non-student partner who is liable for council tax, you are not jointly liable with her/him.1s77 LGFA 1992, as amended by s4 Education (Graduate Endowment and Student Support) (Scotland) Act 2001
 
1     s77 LGFA 1992, as amended by s4 Education (Graduate Endowment and Student Support) (Scotland) Act 2001 »
Discounts
The full council tax bill assumes that there are two adults living in the dwelling. You get a discount of 25 per cent if there is only one person living there. Some people are disregarded when counting how many live in the dwelling. They are described as ‘invisible’ or as having a ‘status discount’. If someone is disregarded in this way and there is no one, or only one adult counted as, living in the property, you get a discount of 50 per cent or 25 per cent. The discount is on the water charge, as well as the council tax charge.1Sch 11 para 11 LGFA 1992
The following people are disregarded in this way:2CT(D)(S)CAO; The Council Tax (Discounts) (Scotland) Regulations 1992 No.1409
    anyone under 18 years old;
    anyone aged 18 or 19 for whom child benefit is payable;
    students;
    a student’s partner from overseas if s/he entered the UK on a visa that prohibits her/him from working or claiming benefits;
    someone under age 20 who was on a non-advanced course of education and who left school or college after 1 May – the status discount lasts from 1 May until 31 October;
    student nurses – ie, those studying for registration;
    apprentices training for an SVQ and on low pay;
    a care leaver aged between 18 and 25, who was looked after on or after her/his 16th birthday and is no longer looked after;
    others – eg, carers, hospital patients and trainees. See CPAG’s Council Tax Handbook for details.
 
1     Sch 11 para 11 LGFA 1992 »
2     CT(D)(S)CAO; The Council Tax (Discounts) (Scotland) Regulations 1992 No.1409 »
Disability reduction
The council tax bill is reduced to the valuation band below your own band if you, or anyone else (adult or child) who is resident in the dwelling, are substantially and permanently disabled and you use a wheelchair indoors or need an extra room.1The Council Tax (Reductions for Disabilities) (Scotland) Regulations 1992 No.1335 For those in band A properties, a proportional reduction is made.
 
1     The Council Tax (Reductions for Disabilities) (Scotland) Regulations 1992 No.1335  »
3. Council tax reduction
Council tax reduction is administered by local authorities and helps you pay the council tax. To get council tax reduction, you must meet all the following conditions.1Regs 14, 16, 19 and 42 CTR(S) Regs
    You are liable for council tax. Most students are not liable for council tax and have no need to apply for a reduction.
    You do not count as a student, or you count as a student but are still eligible for council tax reduction (see below).
    You are ‘habitually resident’ in the UK, Ireland, Channel Islands or the Isle of Man, have a ‘right to reside’ in the UK, and are not a ‘person subject to immigration control’. These terms are explained in CPAG’s Welfare Benefits and Tax Credits Handbook.
    You have no more than £16,000 capital. There is no capital limit if you are getting pension credit guarantee credit (see here).
    Your income is low enough. Council tax reduction is means tested, so the amount you get depends on how much income you have.
 
1     Regs 14, 16, 19 and 42 CTR(S) Regs  »
Students eligible for council tax reduction
Part-time students are eligible for council tax reduction. If you are a full-time student, you are not eligible unless:1Reg 20 CTR(S) Regs
    you are a qualifying young person for child benefit purposes (see here); or
    you are aged under 22 on a course of further education which you started when you were under 21; or
    you are a full-time student in higher education, or aged 19 or over in further education and:
      you get universal credit, income support, income-based jobseeker’s allowance or income-related employment and support allowance; or
      you have a child; or
      you are a disabled student; or
      you have reached pension age.
The way ‘full-time student’ is defined is the same as for housing benefit (see here).2Reg 2 CTR(S) Regs Note: it is not the same as the definition for council tax described in this chapter.
You can get an application form for council tax reduction from the local authority.
 
1     Reg 20 CTR(S) Regs »
2     Reg 2 CTR(S) Regs »
4. Second adult rebate
All students who are liable for council tax can claim second adult rebate. The law refers to this as ‘alternative maximum council tax reduction’. It is intended for people whose bill is higher because they live with others who cannot get a status discount but who cannot make a full contribution towards a share of the bill. You can only get a second adult rebate if you live with others who are not students. If all of you are students, you cannot get this rebate.
Whether or not you get a rebate depends on the income of the people who share with you. Your own income or capital is ignored.
You can get a second adult rebate if:1Reg 78 and Sch 2 CTR(S) Regs
    you are liable for council tax; and
    you have a ‘second adult’ (see below) living with you; and
    the second adult is on universal credit (UC), income support (IS), income-based jobseeker’s allowance (JSA), income-related employment and support allowance (ESA) or pension credit (PC), or has a low income; and
    you do not get rent from a tenant or sub-tenant (arguably, rent from students or others who have a status discount should not disbar you from getting second adult rebate);2Reg 14(6) and (7) CTR (S) Regs and
    if you are in a couple, one or both of you are students or have a status discount for some other reason; and
    if you are jointly liable for the council tax, all of those jointly liable are (or all but one are) students or have a status discount for some other reason.
 
Second adult
A ‘second adult’ is someone aged 18 or over who is a non-dependant – ie, someone who lives with you on a non-commercial basis, is not a student, and does not have a status discount for any other reason.
If you are eligible for second adult rebate and for council tax reduction, the local authority decides which is worth the most to you. You cannot get both at the same time. If you get a second adult rebate, you get a reduction of 100 per cent if the second adult(s) gets IS, income-based JSA, income-related ESA or PC and everyone else is a full-time student,3Sch 2 para 1(c) CTR(S) Regs or 25 per cent, 15 per cent or 7.5 per cent depending on the income of the second adult(s). The maximum second adult rebate if the second adult is on UC is 15 per cent.4Sch 2 para 1 CTR(S) Regs, as amended in 2013 by reg 11 The Council Tax Reduction (Scotland) Amendment (No.4) Regulations 2013, No.287
Examples
Terry lives with his daughter, Minnie, aged 22. Terry is a full-time student. Minnie is claiming JSA. Terry rents the house from a housing association. Terry can claim second adult rebate of 100 per cent. Minnie is the second adult.
Dean is a student and he owns the flat he shares with his brother, Steve. Steve is aged 19 and on UC. Dean can claim second adult rebate of up to 15 per cent, depending on Steve’s income from UC. Steve is the second adult.
 
1     Reg 78 and Sch 2 CTR(S) Regs »
2     Reg 14(6) and (7) CTR (S) Regs »
3     Sch 2 para 1(c) CTR(S) Regs  »
4     Sch 2 para 1 CTR(S) Regs, as amended in 2013 by reg 11 The Council Tax Reduction (Scotland) Amendment (No.4) Regulations 2013, No.287 »

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