What is Council Tax?
Council Tax is a local government tax – it provides income for Cambridge City Council and Cambridgeshire County Council to provide local services and amenities. The tax is applied to residential property, the amount of the tax bill increasing with the value of the house.
Who has to pay?
Usually the occupants of a house are responsible for paying the Council Tax, not the owners, unless:
- The house is unoccupied.
- The dwelling is occupied by more than one household – e.g. HMOs. As a result, landlords may have to charge their tenants extra to cover the cost.
Some houses are automatically exempt, fortunately including accommodation for full time students:
- Student halls of residence and college accommodation
- Houses entirely occupied by full time students
Usually the adult residents are jointly and severally liable, i.e. they share equal liability for paying the bill.
Who is exempt?
Some people, including full time students, are exempt from liability for paying Council Tax – they are simply not included amongst the adult residents of the house when calculating the bill. Exemptions apply to these groups:
- Full time students (on a university course lasting at least one year and including at least 24 weeks of study)
- Non-British spouses or dependants of full time students (if not entitled to take employment or receive benefits)
- 18 and 19 year olds in full time education
- Apprentices, youth training trainees and student nurses
- People who are severely mentally handicapped
These exemptions do not apply if you would otherwise be the liable person for paying the bill, and the house itself is not exempt – so a student owning the house in which they live will still have to pay, unless the house itself is exempt (for example, if it occupied only by full-time students).
To receive Council Tax bills which take account of your personal exemption, you will need to register with Revenue Services. To do this, you will need to collect and complete a form from them, and present written evidence of your right to exemption. Cambridge students should usually obtain a letter confirming their address and course of study from their college.
Although students sharing a house with non-students are usually not legally liable for any of the council tax bill, the full liability resting with the non-students, the division of the bill might be a matter of negotiation between the residents.
Problems with exemptions, Summer 2009
Some PhD students have reported problems in obtaining exemption from Council Tax. The Graduate Union has been in communication with the Board of Graduate Studies and the Office of Intercollegiate Studies on this matter, and discussion has taken place with the City Council.
The main issue has been the date on which a full-time PhD student is considered to haved completed their course. The City Council had viewed the last day of the Easter Term (18th or 25th June) in the third year of research to be the end point for a (full-time) PhD degree course, regardless of certification from a college. This is considered to be incorrect, but it is less clear what point really should be treated as the end of full-time study: thesis submission, examination, approval for the degree, or some other date.
The current position is that the end of Easter term will not be treated as the end of a PhD. The correct end date is still under discussion, but the Council has agreed to suspend any action threatened as a result of non-payment for 60 days if the students affected contact them. When contacting the Council, you should refer to a letter of 13 July 2009 from Mr Richard Smith of the Revenue and Benefit section:
Before discussing these points further, I’d like to first clear up the issue of the 18th or 25th June being used as a date from which to end the academic year for graduate students. Following our conversation, and the updating of the graduates’ website by Dr Maxwell, I’ve issued guidance to the Authority’s Council Tax Team explaining that these dates should no longer be used for graduate students.
With regards to those PhD students who, as a result of the current impasse, are receiving correspondence relating to their Council Tax ‘arrears’, Mr Frost has agreed that, if they contact us, the Authority will suspend further action for 60 days.
Please also inform your College Tutor if you are affected. Colleges will liaise with Sarah Pickard at the Board of Graduate Studies, who is compiling the full list of all cases to be resolved.
Whose bills are reduced?
The full tax bill assumes that the house is occupied as the main residence of two adults; people with the above exemptions are not included in this count. The following discounts are available:
- 25% if only one non-exempt adult lives in the house
- 10-50% if the house is not the main home of any of the residents
You may be entitled to claim Council Tax Benefit to help with paying the Council Tax bill if you are on a low income or receiving Income Support. This might, for example, apply to part time students, who otherwise have the same liability as any other owner or tenant. Special consideration is given to households including:
- A lone parent with dependent children
- People with disabilities
How much is the full bill?
This varies between council areas and with the value of your house. For Cambridgeshire, the values are published annually in Council Tax leaflets available online.
Summary for common student scenarios
The majority of full time graduate students should find themselves in one of the following situations:
|Residential situation||Other residents||Household bill||Personal bill|
|Renting in college||Students||None (exempt)||None (exempt)|
|Renting (shared house or HMO)||Only full time students||None (exempt)||None (exempt)|
|Exactly one non-student||75% of the full amount||None (exempt)|
|Your non-British spouse/dependant||None (exempt)||None (exempt)|
|Two or more non-students||The full amount||None (exempt)|
|A non-British dependant||None (exempt)||None (exempt)|
|Owner-occupier||None||75% of the full amount||75% of the full amount|
|Only full time students||None (exempt)||None (exempt)|
|Exactly one non-student||75% of the full amount||75% of the full amount|
|Two or more non-students||The full amount||The full amount|
You might like to refer to the following more detailed information:
Cambridge City Council Revenue Services
- Revenue Services
4 Regent Street
- 01223 457000