Chimneys and upstairs windows of brick terraced houses
Uni, Work and Study

Council Tax Exemption for Part-time Postgrad Students

When I resumed my postgraduate studies as a part-time student, I suddenly became liable for a council tax bill of £1,203.14 per year. Here’s how I argued my case with the council.

Funded postgraduate students receive a tax-free stipend which covers living costs, and have their university fees paid by their funding body. Becoming ill or disabled during studies has a big financial impact, as not all funding bodies provide sick pay or extra financial support. On top of this, part-time postgraduates lose council tax exemption status.

The criteria for student council tax exemption are:

  • ‘Undertaking a university or college full-time course which lasts for at least one academic or calendar year’
  • ‘takes at least 24 weeks a year’
  • ‘involves at least 21 hours of study per week during term-time’

‘To count as a full-time student, your course must’:

  • ‘last at least 1 year’
  • ‘involve at least 21 hours study per week’


A part-time postgraduate student studying for 21 hours per week would not receive the council tax exemption that an undergraduate studying the same hours would. The flaw in this scheme is that exemption is decided based on the tuition fees being paid; part-time students are paying reduced fees and so are not exempt. This black and white cutoff does not however take into account the difference to postgraduates whose fees are paid by their funding body, and who are unable to study full-time due to illness or disability. There is a discount for disabled people, but only if you need a whole extra room because of your disability, or space for a wheelchair.

Example of impact:

A full-time funded PhD student receives a tax-free stipend of £15,009 per year (19/20) and their university fees are paid by their funding body. They are exempt from paying council tax.

A part-time PhD student receives £7504.50 per year, their fees are paid by the funder but they are now liable to pay council tax.

The burden is even greater if a student in a shared student property becomes disabled part way through their tenancy. The maximum discount on council tax as the only non-full-time student in a household is 25%. This leaves a newly disabled postgraduate liable for 75% of the council tax on their whole student house which could cost thousands of pounds. The exception is in HMOs, where council tax is the landlord’s responsibility.

This means alongside all other problems to cope with being newly ill or disabled, there is the problem of a precarious housing situation. The options seem to be either pay the tax, or move somewhere more affordable (i.e. move in with council tax-paying professionals or into student halls where council tax is not charged).

When I resumed my studies as a part-time student, I was living in a 2 bed flat with another student. My council tax bill was suddenly £1,203.14 per year. Here’s how I appealed it.

Firstly, I tried for exemption on the basis that I was studying for 21 hours per week- the minimum course load for undergraduates to be considered full-time students. I confirmed with my supervisors and Graduate School in writing that I would be working 21 hours per week, then wrote to the council to ask for exemption. I was denied because my official course status was part-time, not full-time.

For my second, successful attempt, I collated 3 different doctors’ letters stating my disability (I just used clinic summaries that had been posted to me) and got a signed and stamped letter from my Graduate School stating that I would be working 21 hours per week. I attached these to an email where I explained that I was studying part-time because I was disabled, and that I did not have income from a part-time job.

Fortunately this was enough to secure a council tax exemption. My next step would have been contacting my local councillor and MP.

Postgraduates who have to study part-time due to illness or disability should not have to pay council tax, and the guidance on council websites should reflect this. In the meantime, it is worth remembering that appealing directly to your local council to inform them of your specific circumstances can secure an exemption. The official rules and wording do vary from council to council.

Top tips:

  • Know your rights and the wording of the tax laws
  • Prepare your case in advance, come armed with the facts
  • Advocate for yourself, or ask someone to help you. The charity Shelter gives great free advice over the phone or online
  • Don’t give up if your appeal is rejected on the first attempt

Extended arm with hand straining to hold a phone. Black and white image
Lifestyle, Tech

5 Smartphone Grips to Make Holding Your Phone Easier

Holding phones in an awkward way can cause pain flare ups for those with chronic hand and wrist complaints like arthritis, RSI, carpal tunnel or EDS.

Smartphone grips for small hands, weak grip or subluxing joints can make holding a phone more secure and comfortable. Below are some of the different options for phone grips and key search terms to help find them online. Adhesive grips can be positioned in the optimal place for each individual’s hand size and left- or right-handedness.

Disclaimer: This post contains affiliate links and I will earn money from qualifying purchases. I use and would recommend the Frienda elastic straps linked below but have not tried the other products. Clicking on an image will take you to its Amazon product page.

Elastic Strap

Elastic strap attached to the back of a smartphone. One finger is being used to hold the strap. 4 strap colours are shown, gold, pink, silver and black
Frienda 4pcs Finger Strap Phone Holder
Amazon UK

Search for: Adhesive elastic strap, phone finger grip, phone stand

Relatively slim, and can be used with one to four fingers. Some come with a kickstand, and/or a card holding pocket. I find this type of strap comfortable and secure, making the phone easy to hold without having to grip.

Popup Grip

Popsocket phone grip seen from the side. It has a flat, circular base with a tapered concertina middle part. The top is round and flat with a black and white marbled design
Popsockets PopGrip Ghost Marble
Amazon UK

Search for: Popsockets, popup grip

This plastic grip is adhesive and is clasped between fingers. It can be flattened or extended with a push, and can double as a prop stand. There are lots of different colours and patterns and they are widely available on Etsy and Amazon.

Ring Holder

Rainbow iridescent ring is shown from the side. Another view shows it being used as a landscape view stand for a phone. Indicates that it is magnetic and can attach to a magnetic mount.
Cell Phone Ring Holder
Amazon UK

Search for: Phone ring kickstand, adhesive, magnetic

A metal or plastic ring that can be folded flat into the phone, for one or two fingers. Some can be used as a stand when folded out, and may contain a magnet for mounting onto an in-car stand. Rings can be adhesive or come as part of a case. Many have 360 degree rotation allowing different holding positions.

Silicone Strap

Silicone strap extending from the camera hole in a phone case to the diagonal bottom corner. A hand is being used to show it is stretchy.
Sinjimoru Silicone Stretching Strap
Amazon UK

Search for: Universal silicone strap/grip/band/loop

This strap is attatched by the inside of your phone case which has to have a camera hole (case usually not included). They are long enough to fit 4 fingers and the angle can be set as preferred.

Slide Up Finger Grip

A lilac strip on the back of a smartphone is pushed up, creating a loop for one finger to fit through and hold the phone.
Pela colapsible grip
Amazon UK

Search for Pela, Speck GrabTab, Momostick, slide up phone finger holder/ grip

These grips are relatively low profile when not in use. They usually fit one finger and can double as a stand. Some brands include card-holders or biodegradeable design.

When choosing remember to check which surfaces an adhesive is compatible with!

Hobbies and Sport, Lifestyle, Work and Study

Welcome to ‘I’m Handling It’

‘I’m Handling It’ is a project documenting hand and wrist adaptations that hopes to be a source of ideas and resources for others.

Hi, I’m Hope! I’m a part-time research postgrad student living in the UK and writing my thesis from home. I have wrist instability and chronic pain caused by nerve damage from a road accident, both on my dominant side. After surgeries and physical rehab I’m now investing time into adapting all aspects of life to get my independence and old hobbies back. This usually involves trying to adapt things for one-handed use.

What will be on the blog?

I’ve especially missed playing instruments, baking, doing art, and crafting so will be looking for ways to make these things more one-handed friendly. Around the house I’ll be looking for adaptations and hacks to make cleaning easier, and for recipes and food preparation techniques that are easy to do one-handed. The successes, failures and recommendations will be published here in the hope that it can help others looking for advice.

I also want to share what I’ve learnt from being a disabled student at university and the adaptations that have been helpful so far. I am a Biochemist/Immunologist who used to work in a lab, but for the past year my work has been computational so I have made lots of changes to my computer set up and the technology I use.

I especially want to learn from other people experiencing upper limb disabilities and hope to feature interviews to talk about their experiences and advice. It would be great to highlight adaptation and disability services that already exist for all kinds of upper limb disabilities and injuries, and to bring them together in one place. If you have any suggestions for things you’d like to see, or to propose a submission or collaboration, please do get in touch here.