Disabled Students & Council Tax

A student who was enrolled on a part-time university course but who had to undertake more than 21 hours of study per week because of her dyslexia has been refused a council tax exemption by the High Court. This was because her course did not meet the definition of a ‘full-time course’.

The student, who lived in Bristol, had asked Bristol City Council to accept that she should qualify for the student exemption because of extra study she was having to do as a result of her dyslexia. She argued that it would be unfair if she was given study support which increased her hours of study to those of a full-time student but was then refused the exemption from council tax granted to a full-time student.

The Council rejected the above arguments and so did the High Court.

To some extent the court’s hands were tied by the wording of the relevant council tax provision, which put the focus onto the ‘normal’ requirements of the course. However, aspects of its reasoning were somewhat unattractive, such as the following:

‘To shift the focus from the normal requirements of the course to the circumstances of an individual student would require a time-consuming and potentially contentious enquiry in relation to every claim for a student exemption. It would moreover risk favouring the student who was slow in his work (for example, because of a want of aptitude for the subject, or because he did not speak English as his first language) and penalising the able student who was able to complete the required work in less time than the education establishment expected.

‘It seems to me that there is no relevant difference between the Appellant, who is entitled to support which increases the number of hours per week which she devotes to her course, and – for example – a foreign student who is granted an entitlement to attend weekly English language lessons in order to bring his command of the language up to a level commensurate with the requirements of the course.

Contrary to what the judgement suggests, the additional support provided to disabled students – and the time it occupies – is not simply an optional extra to be accessed if desired. It is designed to put students on the same footing as non-disabled peers completing the course within the number of hours ‘normally required.’ If, having receiving additional support, disabled students no longer have time to work and earn, they should be entitled to relief from council tax.

This is an injustice that needs to be remedied.

The decision can be viewed here.

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