Benefits for Students in Scotland Handbook
Part 4: Other matters
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Part 4: Other matters
Chapter 20: Council tax

This chapter covers:

1. What is council tax (below)

2. Who pays council tax (Cross reference)

3. Council tax reduction (Cross reference)

4. Second adult rebate (Cross reference)

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 pCross referenceCross reference).

2. Who pays council tax

There are two main council tax exemptions for you as a student. The accommodation you live in may be exempt (see Cross reference). You may not be liable to pay any council tax (see Cross reference).

If neither of these applies, there are two main ways to reduce  the bill. The liable person may be able to get a discount (see Cross reference). The liable person may be able to get a council tax reduction or second adult rebate (see pCross referenceCross reference).

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 on a further or higher education course. For older students, one rule applies whatever level of course you do. If you are an 'articulating' student of any age, you may count as a student between courses (see below).

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.Footnote

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;Footnote evening classes;Footnote correspondence courses;Footnote courses attended if you are a trainee on a youth training course or an apprentice.Footnote

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.Footnote You can add together hours spent on more than one course if these are all at the same college.Footnote

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.Footnote 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.Footnote However, you might be able to get a discount (see Cross reference).


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.



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.Footnote 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.Footnote 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 Cross reference). 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.Footnote After that, they may still give you a certificate, but they are not legally required to do so. The certificate must contain:Footnote 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.

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.Footnote 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. 

Exempt dwellings

A dwelling is exempt if all the people who occupy it are in any of the following categories:Footnote 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.Footnote 

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.Footnote

There are a number of other exemptions that are not specifically aimed at students. For details, see CPAG's Council Tax Handbook.

Who is liable for council tax
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