Becoming a councillor

If you are passionate about your local community, we need you. Councillors make a huge difference to the quality of life of local people and how local issues are dealt with. We need people from all backgrounds and experiences who reflect the communities they serve to put themselves forward for election.

1. Why become a councillor?

Being a councillor is all about giving back to your community by bringing your energy, passion, and hard-working attitude. You can make a real difference to the local community and wider society in many ways as a councillor. For example, you could be representing the views of local people to ensure the community gets the right services, supporting a resident with an issue, or helping to shape the community by driving new ideas. 

I rarely saw people who looked like me in politics and so became the change I wanted to see."

- Councillor Antoinette Bramble

Being a councillor is a varied and highly fulfilling role. You don’t need any experience or special qualifications, and you’ll gain lots of new skills, experience, knowledge, and confidence. Councillors are paid an allowance and can work flexibly.  

I became a councillor because giving something back to the community is extremely important to me. I believe that if we all played our part and worked together we would make our world a better place."

- Councillor Arif Hussain

You can view more councillor stories on our case studies page.

2. What do councils do?

Councils are responsible for a range of vital services for people and businesses in defined areas. They run more than 800 services (depending on the type of council). Many are visible to everyone but some you may only know about if you come into direct contact with them.   

Here are some of the services that councils provide:  

  • school education and adult learning 
  • children’s and adult’s social care 
  • housing and regeneration 
  • emergency responses e.g. flooding, Fire and Rescue services, and Covid-19   
  • parks, playgrounds and open spaces  
  • community cohesion   
  • leisure centres and activities for all ages  
  • climate and environment  
  • health and wellbeing  
  • supporting vulnerable people  
  • refuse, recycling and street cleaning  
  • economic growth, business support and advice  
  • arts, libraries, museums and heritage sites  
  • transport, roads and street lighting  
  • community safety and crime reduction  
  • planning and building regulation.

There are several types of councils, and the way a council works depends on the type. They include District councils, Borough councils, County councils, Metropolitan councils and Unitary councils. Find out more about the different types of councils

A lot of council work is done in an agile way, with a focus on improvement, collaboration, and innovation, and by working with the community and others such as the police and health partners. 

The council and local services are mainly funded by payments from central government as well as council tax, although council tax makes up only about a quarter of a council’s budget.   

3. What do councillors do?

Local councils are made up of councillors who are elected by the public in local elections. Councillors work with local people and partners, such as community groups, businesses and other organisations, to agree and deliver on local priorities. The decisions are implemented by permanent council staff, council officers, who deliver services on a daily basis.  

The role of a councillor is to serve and represent everyone in the ward that they are elected to (and not just those who voted for them). Some are also appointed to additional roles in the council, such as being a cabinet member.  

The role brings people together. Councillors work with a diverse range of people from their community and have officers to support them in their role at the council. Councillors lead the local conversation: you can be part of that to make your area the best place it can be.  

It’s a varied and highly fulfilling role, and no day is the same. 

Councillors serve and represent the community in many ways, for example:  

  • Talking to constituents by phone, email and letter, social media, home visits, drop-in sessions, street or community meetings, and local events.
  • Responding to queries and issues from local people, investigating concerns, helping with solutions (this is called casework).
  • Keeping the community informed about local issues and events - for example through email, newsletters, blogs, social media and in person.
  • Reading council meeting agendas and reports, research and evidence to understand issues and participate in discussions and decisions.
  • Attending formal council meetings as well as meetings with local partners and organisations.
  • Working collaboratively with local people, voluntary and community organisations, police, health partners, and businesses to shape the future of the local area. Building strong relationships and encouraging people to get involved and share their views and ideas.
  • Some councillors have extra responsibilities, for example specific council projects, or positions in the cabinet, committees or regulation boards.

Councillors shape the future of the local area by making plans and taking decisions: Councils need strategies, policies and plans to achieve the vision for the local area, making the best use of resources and meeting the needs of local communities. As a councillor you will help create these. 

Councillors also adhere to protocols and behaviour standards: Every council has their own constitution and code of conduct which you can search for on the council website. The Seven Principles of Public Life outline the ethical standards that those working in the public sector are expected to adhere to, including councillors. 

Councillors undertake political activities too: This can include attending local political meetings, talking with residents, leafletting, training, and personal development. If you are an independent, there is support and events available from the Local Government Association Independent Group

Here are some of the achievements that councillors have told us about:   

  • helping a resident with a housing safety issue 
  • getting a crossing installed at a dangerous junction   
  • creating greener spaces by setting up a community orchard    
  • helping refugee families get settled in the local area  
  • getting residents involved in a large-scale regeneration plan.

4. Who can be a councillor?

We need people from all backgrounds and experiences who reflect the communities they serve to put themselves forward for election. You don’t need any experience or special qualifications. Your life experience, everyday skills, passion and commitment to people and communities are vital, and it’s important that councils reflect the local population. 

To be a councillor you need to be:  

  • British or a citizen of the Commonwealth. You may also be eligible as a citizen of the European Union, however the criteria has changed now that the UK has left the European Union. Please check on the website for advice about EU citizens’ voting and candidacy rights in local elections.
  • At least 18 years old.
  • Registered to vote in the area or have lived, worked, or owned property there for at least 12 months before an election.

You can’t be a councillor if you:  

  • Work for the council you want to be a councillor for, you can work for another local authority as long as you are not in a political restricted post.
  • Are the subject of a bankruptcy restrictions order or interim order.
  • Have been sentenced to prison for three months or more (including suspended sentences) during the five years before election day.
  • Have been convicted of a corrupt or illegal practice by an election court.
  • Are subject to any relevant notification requirements, or a relevant order, in respect of a sexual offence.

Please read the full eligibility criteria from the Electoral Commission. If you are in any doubt about whether you are eligible to stand as a councillor, you should contact the Electoral Services or Democratic Services team at your local council or the Electoral Commission for advice.

5. Do I need any skills, experience or special qualifications?

There are a number of useful skills which help councillors carry out their role. However, you will receive training and become more experienced and confident once elected. There can be a steep learning curve, but it is worth it for what you can achieve for your community. 

Some useful skills for being a councillor include: 

  • being a leader in your community 
  • having good communication skills 
  • partnership and team working 
  • problem solving, questioning and analytical skills 
  • being flexible, adaptable and open-minded 
  • being organised and having good time management 
  • having political understanding.

You can read more about the role and skills for councillors in the Political Skills Framework and the 21st Century Councillor as well as accessing our resources and Improving Access to Elected Office guidebook for disabled people for further support 

6. Can I have a job and be a councillor? 

By law, if you are working, your employer must allow you to take a reasonable amount of time off during working hours to perform your duties as a councillor. The amount of time given will depend on your responsibilities and the effect of your absence on your employer's business. Employers can choose to pay you for this time, but they don’t have to.  

We would encourage you to discuss as soon as possible with your employer before making the commitment to stand for election. 

Many employers are supportive and understand the importance, value and mutual benefits of their employees contributing to the community in this way.   

There are many benefits to both employee and employer – practical work experience, skills and knowledge which can be transferred into any workplace, and the role can be career-enhancing.   

Being a councillor provides:  

  • Practical work experience: council work is incredibly varied (as councils run up to 800 services) and links to all aspects of our life and therefore all types of employment.   
  • New skills: such as leadership skills, communication skills, reading reports, influencing skills and speaking at meetings or events.  
  • Knowledge: about the local community, how councils, government and the wider public sector works; as well as topics from culture and biodiversity, mental and physical health, to finance and budgets.  
  • Confidence: gained through new experiences, challenges and achievements for the local area.

7. How do I become a councillor?

Find out when your next local government elections are by checking your local council website or contacting the Democratic Services team. You can check which council you come under on the 'Find My Council' page. Make sure you are registered on the electoral roll by contacting the Electoral Services team at your council. 

Don’t be discouraged if the next elections are a long way away – there is plenty to do and learn on the journey to becoming a councillor. Starting early will help to understand the processes of standing for election and learn more about local government to hit the ground running if elected.   

If you are interested in becoming an independent candidate (not in a political party), you can get resources and advice from the Local Government Association’s Independent Office, their Be a Councillor resources and Campaign Corner. As an independent, you will also need to start working out your views on local issues and services. 

To stand for a political party, you’ll need to be a member of the party, get involved locally and go through their selection process to be put forward as their candidate for election. You can find out more on each party’s website. Depending on which party you are interested in, this can take up to about a year, so please contact your political party as soon as you can to start getting involved.  

To become nominated as a candidate you usually need to submit a completed set of nomination papers to your council by 4pm on the 19th working day before the election. However, please contact the Democratic Services team at your council to get the necessary paperwork, confirm the deadlines, and find out what help they can give you to submit your papers correctly. 

You will need to get the signature of ten registered electors from the ward you wish to stand in. They must be of voting age and must appear on the local government electoral register that is in force on the 25th working day before the election. 

Additionally, you may want to consider: 

8. What is the time commitment?

Being a councillor requires commitment and hard work, but the role can be done flexibly around employment, studying, caring, and other voluntary commitments. Whilst the commitment can be challenging at times, the role is highly fulfilling, and it is worth it for what you can achieve for your community. 

The amount of time you spend on your duties as a councillor is largely up to you and will depend on the different roles and commitments each councillor takes up. On average, councillors spend 22 hours per week on council business. 20 per cent of councillors spent 10 hours or fewer, and 13.5 per cent spent more than 35 hours per week. This includes time spent on virtual, hybrid and face-to-face meetings (LGA: National census of local authority councillors 2022). Cabinet members or leaders will spend more time on council business but will also receive a higher compensation for this, called an ‘allowance’.   

While much of the day-to-day work of a councillor takes place outside of formal meetings, you will be required to attend some council meetings to:   

  • represent community views, needs and ideas  
  • help create strategies, policies and plans  
  • make decisions and/or review decisions taken.

Each council runs their meetings differently and meetings can be held in the day and/or in the evening. Some meetings can now be done remotely with virtual technology, although formal council meetings are still required by law to take place in person 

Before you consider becoming a councillor, you may want to discuss it with your family and friends to ensure that they understand that you will need their support and understanding. You may be spending a lot of your time on council business. 

Hear from real councillors to find out more and use our resources to find out how you would balance life as a councillor. 

9. What support will I get?

There is a wide range of support available to candidates, and councillors once elected. 

Councils run ‘induction’ training for all new councillors. This will help you to become familiar with the council, its departments, and the expectations and roles of councillors. There is mandatory training for example on finance, safeguarding, equality and diversity, and the code of conduct. Councillors are also set up with IT equipment and support.  Councils offer continual development opportunities throughout the time as a councillor to help with knowledge of council services and to develop personal skills and confidence.    

The Local Government Association (LGA) is the national organisation for councils and provides a wide range of support from how to chair meetings and handle casework from residents; to understanding different council services such as health, planning or reducing carbon emissions; as well as personal development such as influencing and facilitation skills or supporting residents with complex needs.  

The LGA offers cross-party and political networking with other councillors, as well as support in affinity groups such as the ‘weekender’ events for BAME councillors, LGBTQIA+ councillors, disabled councillors, women and young councillors. The LGA also provides support and guides on specific topics from housing and environment to education and leisure.   

LG Inform is a brilliant (and free) data and benchmarking tool that pulls together the important stats for your local area.   

Political parties, the LGA Independent Group and cross-party democracy organisations such as Elect Her, My Life My Say, Operation Black VoteShout Out UK50:50 Parliament and the Disability Policy Centre provide support, resources and events.  We have additional information for disabled people in our Improving Access to Elected Office guidebook, for example more detail on the time commitment, ways of working, reasonable adjustments, as well as information on benefits and Access to Work. 

Councillors also network with other councillors which provides another great source of support – this includes councillors from different political groups and different regions.  

Standing for election and serving as a councillor is a responsibility, a privilege and highly fulfilling. However, we are aware that councillors and candidates can be subjected to abuse, especially on social media, and that this can put people off. You will find support through other candidates and councillors, political groups and parties, councils and the Local Government Association (LGA). The LGA has a guide with steps that individuals and organisations can take to protect yourself as a person in a public position, and how to respond should an incident occur. Read our Guide to Handling Intimidation.   

10. Will I get paid?

Councillors are not paid a salary, but they are entitled to receive financial compensation called an ‘allowance’ and expenses. This ensures they are not left out of pocket by covering costs such as travel to and from meetings and recognises the time devoted to council business on behalf of local people.   

Each council sets its own rate for allowances, which you can search for on your council's website – usually called the ‘Members Allowances Scheme’.   

On average, councillors in England receive around £7,000 a year - ranging from £3,000 to £16,000 depending on the council1.

The amount paid also depends on the role and responsibility of each councillor. All councillors get paid the basic allowance, but councillors with specific roles such as cabinet members or leaders of the council receive a Special Responsibility Allowance on top of the basic allowance to reflect the level of work and additional time commitment required.  

Councillors can also claim back costs for childcare and caring services whilst on certain councillor duties. In our Improving Access to Elected Office guidebook, we have further information about benefits and Access to Work as a councillor.

1. (Tax Payers’ Alliance (December 2020), Councillors’ Allowances 2020)

11. Further information

If you want to find out more about becoming a councillor, or have a specific query, please get in touch with us at [email protected], or on Twitter @BeaCouncillor.   

There are a range of people to talk to who can help you find out more about being a councillor. People will be pleased to hear from you and happy to help, so it is worth getting in touch to speak with them.    

You can get in touch via our political contacts and Be a Councillor contacts.  

You can also contact other democratic organisations for support, resources and events, such as Elect Her, My Life My Say, Operation Black Vote, Shout Out UK, 50:50 Parliament and the Disability Policy Centre We have additional information for disabled people in our Improving Access to Elected Office guidebook

You can find your local council in England, Wales or Scotland. You may also have a town or parish council in your local area.