Over the years a question which has come up from time to time is that of whether Open University students are students for Council Tax purposes. Many people think not however in some cases it is, in fact, true.
There are several aspects which we need to consider before a person can be considered a full-time student however there are three in particular we will briefly consider here – distance learning, what constitutes a course and the hours requirement.
Distance Learning students
The distance learning aspect of the Open University is an aspect that many have used to dismiss people who apply for a Council Tax reduction. Prior to 2011 a student had to ‘attend’ a course of education whereas post 2011, following a change in legislation, a student only had to ‘undertake’ a course of education.
Since 2011 an Open University student can clearly pass the first test – Local authorities were warned by the Department of the Environment, Transport and the Regions as far back as 1997 not to dismiss Open University students out of hand however it was not enforced. A 2011 piece of government guidance, issued in respect of a change of legislation, confirmed the intent was to also bring distance learning courses in to the remit of the Council Tax.
What constitutes a full-time course
Council Tax legislation requires a qualifying course to last for at least 24 weeks of an academic (or calendar) year.
Looking at the length of the course is a slightly easier aspect as the courses are generally expected to run for 9 months or so at a time and therefore each course, irrespective of anything else, should meet this requirement.
Council Tax legislation requires a qualifying course to take at least 21 hours per week of study or tuition.
The Open University advise that a 30 point course would be expected to take around 8 hours, 60 points 16 hours etc. Using this as a baseline a full time student would be expected to be undertaking 90 points of course at a time to meet the hours requirement.
A student studying for 90 points or more at a time should therefore easily meet the 21 hour per week requirement.
A student certificate should be available from your place of study – this will ordinarily confirm you are a full-time student.
The Open University does now provide letters confirming the relevant course details however in the absence of this written confirmation of the number of points being studied, the length of the course and the expected hours should be suitable alternatives and has been found to be acceptable by a Valuation Tribunal (see case listed below).
Backdating of any discounts
A student disregard – and any associated reduction – can be backdated. The Local Authority may, in some cases, refuse to backdate or request extra proof that you qualify. These are issues which can usually be easily sorted.
Convincing a local authority that you are a full-time student for Council Tax can still be a hassle, even if you meet all of the requirements required. It is at this stage that the Valuation Tribunal, who oversee Council Tax appeals, can be useful.
One Valuation Tribunal case in particular, reference 5630M93634/084C, addressed the issues we have outlined above and can prove useful. The student in this case studied 90 points at a time ( a 60 point and a 30 point course) across several years and appealed the rejection of their student status from their local authority. In this case the tribunal ordered the local authority to treat the applicant as a full-time student.
Assistance from LGFA92
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This article is solely the view of LGFA92, the Council Tax experts, based on our interpretation of legislation. Your local authority is free to dispute this view. A binding decision may require the intervention of a valuation tribunal.