Do PhD Students Pay Council Tax?

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Do PhD Students Pay Council Tax?

When you apply to become a full-time PhD student in the UK, you will almost never have to worry about paying council tax. Whether you are an international student or a home student, all full-time university students are exempt from council tax. In this article, we will cover some circumstances that may mean you do not qualify for the exemption after covering what council tax is, how it is calculated, and how to inform your local council that you are exempt.

What is Council Tax?

Council tax is levied onto households by their local authority based on the number of people living in a household, and the estimated value of the property. Each property is under a different band, which will outline how much council tax you need to pay. The tax helps the local council to fund the services they provide to their residents. Your council tax bill will go towards your rubbish collection, recycling, street lighting and cleaning, and community services for the elderly and vulnerable, such as Meals on Wheels. 

UK residents become liable for council tax when they reach the age of 18; a full bill is based on two or more adults living in the same house or flat; for adults living alone, there is a 25% discount. One of the biggest perks of being a full-time student in the UK is the exemption from council tax payments. If every member of a household is a full-time college, undergraduate or postgraduate student, the entire dwelling will be exempt. PhD students living in University Halls of Residence will be automatically exempt from making council tax payments. If one member of the household isn’t in full-time higher education, the exemption will not be granted. However, if there is only one non-full-time student in the household, they will still be granted the 25% monthly discount.

Who is Classed as a Full-Time Student?

For council tax exemption, you will be regarded as a full-time student if: 

  • Your course lasts for at least one academic or calendar year and runs for at least 24 weeks out of the year.
  • Your course typically involves over 21 hours of study, work experience or tuition per week during term time. 

If you are in the writing-up stage of your PhD, it is slightly more difficult to prove to your local council that you are in full-time education. However, it is not impossible. Speak to your PhD supervisor, who will be able to draft a letter confirming that you are in the process of writing up your thesis. During the writing-up stage, you won’t need to be attending university to be exempt from council tax. 

If you are between courses, for example, if you have finished your Masters degree and are waiting for the new academic year to start your PhD research and study, you may be liable for council tax. This liability phase will only apply when you are not in the formal period of the course you have just finished or the one you will start. 

If you have chosen to undertake your PhD as a part-time student, you will not be eligible for the council tax exemption available to students. However, you may be able to qualify for a council tax reduction.

Learn more: How long is a PhD?

Exemptions While Taking Time Off from PhD Study

If circumstances require you to take time off, such as family commitments or illness, this doesn’t automatically mean you will need to start making council tax payments. It isn’t uncommon for students to take breaks from their course; if, for any reason, you need to suspend your studying but intend to return to your degree and remain registered on the course you won’t be liable to pay council tax as you will still be classed as a full-time student. Though you will be fully exempt if you are interrupting your study or re-sitting out of attendance, this doesn’t prevent some local authorities from stating that you are liable to pay council tax payments. If this should happen, and you are not in your final year of study, you can appeal the council tax charges with the help of the Citizens Advice Bureau or your welfare office at UWS London.

Do I Need to Be Paying Full Tuition Fees to Be Exempt?

As long as you meet all the conditions to qualify as a full-time student, there is no rule to say that you need to pay full tuition fees to be exempt from council tax. Your PhD supervisor must confirm with your local authority that even though you are no longer paying full-time fees, you are still a full-time student, undertaking more than 21 hours of study a week for a minimum of 24 weeks out of the academic year. The letter written by your PhD supervisor should also disclose that writing up your PhD can be undertaken on the university campus or at home.

Read more: PhD fees in the UK.

How to Claim Council Tax Exemption as a PhD Student

You will only be able to claim council tax exemption from the official start date of your course, and this can only happen after you have enrolled and the university has confirmed your place. To qualify for council tax exemption, you may need proof that you are a full-time student. You can request a letter or certificate from your university or PhD supervisor to confirm you are studying full-time. If you move during the academic year, don’t assume you will automatically be exempt from council tax in your new accommodation – especially if you have moved to a different borough. You will need to complete the relevant exemption forms from the new borough you have relocated to.

Living with Non-Students and Part-Time Students

If, while you are a full-time PhD student at UWS London, you move into a house share or any other existing living arrangement with non-full-time students, there will usually be a council tax bill sent to your dwelling. However, as a full-time student, you will never hold any liability to pay it. Only non-full-time students will be legally responsible for the council tax bills – regardless of any insistence that household bills should be split evenly and fairly. If the bills are included in the total weekly or monthly cost to live in a property, always ask for a full breakdown of them. 

However, if you own the property you share with people who are not in full-time education or have any other form of legal interest, you will still need to make council tax payments under the hierarchy of liability regulations. The Citizens Advice Bureau will be able to give you more guidance if you are obligated to pay under the hierarchy of liability. 

There are also different council tax exemption rules for international students living with their civil partners or spouses while undertaking their PhD in the UK. If you only share your residence with a non-student, aged 18 or over, and they are not a British Citizen or have limited permission to stay in the country, in most instances, you will not need to pay council tax. However, this depends on what the wording in their immigration permission states. The Citizens Advice Bureau will be best placed to help you with these matters.

What to Do if You Still Receive a Council Tax Bill as an Exempt Full-Time PhD Student

Even if you are exempt from paying council tax, if you receive a bill or payment reminders in the post, you mustn’t ignore them. The sanctions for non-payment of council tax bills are far more severe than leaving any other utility bill unpaid and unacknowledged. Imprisonment is one of the most severe punishments for unpaid council tax. If you receive a bill and are unsure what to do next, contact a welfare advisor at your university, or visit the website to inform them of your exemption. Never delay contacting your local council tax office and finding out why they believe you are liable to make paymenats. More often than not, this is due to the tax office missing vital information about your exemption.

For More Support and Information

Understanding council tax exemptions can be complicated, especially for international students who are unfamiliar with the form of taxation. At UWS London, we support our PhD students in every aspect of their study to ensure they can focus on writing their thesis. For more information on council tax, you can contact the UWS London Students’ Union or seek advice from the university advice centre. Citizens Advice also helps students resolve queries about council tax and other financial matters. 



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