We answer all the common questions about becoming a councillor.
- Why would I want to be a councillor?
There are many reasons why you might like to become a councillor:
- to make a difference and help shape the future of the local community
- concern about your local area and wanting to ensure the community gets the right services
- to represent the views of local people and ensure that community interests are taken into account
- concern about a specific issue and wanting to do something about it
- having good ideas for the council and community in a time of scarce resources
- to contribute your skills
- to build on other community work through a charity, voluntary group or school governing body – becoming a councillor can be a great ‘next step’
- to pursue your political ambitions and contribute to your community
- it can be a career-enhancing activity, allowing you to develop leadership and analytical skills and to obtain practical and managerial work experience.
- Next steps: How do I become a councillor?
To become a councillor you have to put yourself forward at local elections and compete with other candidates to gain the most votes.
Below are some of the most important steps to consider.
- Find out when the next local government elections are in your area by checking with your local council.
- Make sure you are registered on the electoral role with your local council.
- If you are interested in independent politics (not a political party), you can get resources and advice from the Local Government Association’s Independent Office and the Independent 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 before you can be put forward as their candidate for election. You can find out more on each party’s website. This can take up to about a year or more, so please contact your political party as soon as you can. You can also contact the Local Government Association (LGA) political offices.
- Almost anyone can be a councillor but to check that you are eligible
- Hear from real councillors about what it’s like being a councillor and their tips and inspiration
- Get in touch with a councillor to find out more with an informal chat (or ask us to help)
- Watch the Be a Councillor film
- Use our Be a Councillor worksheets to see how you would handle some real situations as a councillor
- Explore, research and keep up to date about your local area, different communities, services, issues and ideas.
- Attend council meetings and local events to find out more about local government and your community.
- Read the guidance from the Electoral Commission about the processes and forms to fill out to put yourself forward for election. To become nominated as a candidate at a local government election in England, you need to submit a completed set of nomination papers to the place fixed by the Returning Officer by 4pm on the 19th working day before the poll.
- Contact the Democratic Services team at your council to get the necessary paperwork, find out the deadlines, and see what help they can give to submit your papers. Find your local council.
- You will need to get 10 people (in the ward where you wish to stand) to sign your nomination papers.
- Build your local profile, reputation and campaign. Find out more about campaigning from the Local Government Association’s Independent Office, your political party, or the Electoral Commission.
To be a councillor you need to be:
- British or a citizen of the Commonwealth or European Union
- 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:
If you are in any doubt about whether you are eligible to stand as a councillor, you should contact the electoral services department at your local council for advice.
- Work for the council you want to be a councillor for, or for another local authority 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
- What do councillors do?
Councillors are elected to represent the local community, so you must either live or work in the council area. Becoming a councillor is both a rewarding and privileged form of public service.
You will be in a position to make a difference to the quality of other people’s daily lives and prospects.
Being an effective councillor requires both commitment and hard work. You will have to balance the needs and interests of residents, the council and (if you represent one) your political party.
Over recent years the role of councils has changed. They now have additional responsibilities, a focus on engaging better with communities, and working in partnership with different organisations.
A councillor’s role and responsibilities include:
- developing strategies and plans for the area
- serving the community – helping with problems and ideas
- representing the community
- working with others
- decision making and reviewing decisions
- talking to the community about their needs and about what the council is doing.
Councillors do this by:
- Talking to constituents by phone, email and letter, social media, home visits, drop-in sessions, street or community meetings, local events.
- Attending formal council meetings.
- Managing casework – where people come to you for help with problems.
- Working on specific council projects with other councillors and council officers.
- Representing the council on outside organisations such as charities and public bodies.
- As a member of a political party attending political group meetings, party training and other events.
- Participating in community meetings and events, such as parish council meetings or meetings about community safety and policing. Whilst councillors don’t have to go to these meetings, it can be a helpful way to find out about what’s happening in the community and also telling the community about what’s happening in the council.
- What do councils do?
Councils 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.
- School education and lifelong learning
- Social services and family support
- Housing and regeneration
- Parks, playgrounds and open spaces
- Tackling disadvantage
- Building cohesive communities
- Leisure centres and sports
- Climate and environment
- Health and wellbeing
- Supporting vulnerable residents
- 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 regulations
These activities are mainly funded through payments from central government and the collection of council tax, although council tax makes up only about a quarter of a council’s budget.
You may also have a parish or town council providing some additional local community services such as allotments, footpaths, public seating and litter bins.
- Do I need any skills or qualifications?
- Communication and influencing skills – these include listening and interpersonal skills, facilitation, public speaking, advocacy, the ability to consider alternative points of view and to negotiate, mediate and resolve conflict.
- Problem solving, questioning and analytical skills – the ability to get to the bottom of an issue, look at evidence and research, and think of different ways to resolve the issue, including the advantages and disadvantages of each option.
- Team working – being able to work with other councillors and council officers in meetings and on committees and being able to complete any tasks given to you.
- Organisational skills – being able to plan and manage your time, keep appointments and meet deadlines.
- Ability to engage with the local community – being available to provide information and advice to people.
- Knowledge of the local area – the needs and concerns of communities and awareness of local community groups, events and activities.
- Technology skills – councils rely increasingly on information and communications technology and councillors are expected to play a full role in this, eg using email.
- What training and support is there?
The council and the LGA provide advice and support to councillors for all aspects of their role, such as:
- training to familiarise oneself with the work of the council, the expectations of councillors, and ways in which they can carry out their role
- ongoing learning and development to broaden knowledge, skills and confidence
- opportunities to meet council officers
- IT support
- How do I know if it’s for me? I’m not sure I feel ready or confident enough
Read our case studies from real councillors, watch the Be a Councillor film, use our Be a Councillor worksheets to see how you would handle some real situations, get in touch with a councillor to find out more with an informal chat (or ask us to put you in touch with someone). Don’t worry if you don’t yet feel that you have the skills or confidence to be a councillor, the council and the Local Government Association (LGA) provides support, information and training for new councillors (and ongoing support for councillors of all levels).
- Independent or political party?
You do not have to be a member of the big three political parties to stand, you could stand for another party or be an Independent Councillor.
As an independent, you will also need to start working out your views on local issues and services.
If you choose to stand for a political party you will need to be a member of the party, commit to getting involved locally and go through their selection process before you can be put forward as their candidate. This can take up to about a year or more, so please contact your political party as soon as you can. You can also contact the Local Government Association (LGA) political offices.
- Can I talk to someone to find out more?
Get in touch with us or the Local Government Association’s political offices; contact a councillor; read our case studies from real councillors; or get in touch your council’s Democratic Services team for more information.
- How do I find out what my local council is?
You may also have a town or parish council in your local area.
- Do you have information I can take away to read / share?
- When are the next local elections?
- What about personal safety in public and online?
Becoming and serving as a councillor is a responsibility, a privilege and a hugely rewarding undertaking. But we are aware that councillors and candidates can be subjected to abuse, especially on social media, and that this is putting people off standing as local councillors. This is of concern to us as an organisation representing local government and encouraging more people to stand as councillors through the Be a Councillor campaign. We need a numerous and diverse set of candidates and councillors to represent our numerous and diverse local communities, ensuring that local decision making is robust and well-informed.
You will find support through other candidates and councillors, councils, political groups, political parties and the Local Government Association (LGA). The LGA has a guide with steps that individuals and councils can take to protect yourself as a person in a public position, and how to respond should an incident occur. You can read our Guide to Handling Intimidation here https://www.local.gov.uk/councillors-guide-handling-intimidation
- What is the time commitment?
How much time you spend on your duties as a councillor is largely up to you and will depend on the roles and commitments each councillor takes up. On average councillors can spend up to 25 hours per week in leading roles, such as a cabinet member.
You will be expected to attend council meetings - some of which may be held during the day, some in the evening. Some meetings occur only a few times each year, others take place on a more regular basis.
Time will also be needed to read agendas and reports and become familiar with the issues at hand so you can make informed decisions.
As with most things in life, what you get back will depend on how much you put in. But remember, the amount of time you give is almost entirely up to you.
Before you consider becoming a councillor you may want to discuss it with your family and friends to make sure they understand what you are taking on. You will need their support as you'll have to spend some of your spare time on council business.
- Will I get paid for being a councillor?
Councillors are not paid a salary but they are entitled to receive a basic allowance. 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 find on your council's website.
- What are the timescales?
Councillors are elected for four-year terms, but councils run different electoral systems. Some elect the whole council once every four years, some councils elect a third each year. Find out from your council when local elections are due to take place in your area.
- Can I be a councillor and have a job?
Yes. 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.
You should discuss this with your employer before making the commitment to stand for election.