FAQ: What is a Parish Council?

What is a Parish Council?

Parish councils in England form the first tier of local government. They are elected bodies with limited tax raising powers, and are responsible for certain community services in areas known as civil parishes, as distinct from ecclesiastical or church parishes. Not every civil parish has a parish council and the smaller ones, those typically with an electorate of fewer than 200 electors may have a parish meeting instead. Civil parishes generally cover only the rural part of England, with only about 35% of the total population. There are approximately 8,500 councils in England. There are no parish councils in Greater London and few in most of the other larger urban areas.

A parish with a small number of electors may share a council with one or more neighbouring parishes, such as the case with Nutley and Axford with Preston Candover, and with Chilton and Brown Candovers. The powers of parish councils are fairly limited and in areas where they do not exist, they are exercised by the local district council.

Parish councils were formed in England under the Local Government Act of 1894 to take over local responsibility for certain civic duties in smaller rural towns and villages. Until then various local groups, usually based around ecclesiastical parishes had responsibility in a system of local government that emanated in the feudal system of the 8th century. In more recent years with the introduction of successive government acts there have been many changes in the roles and responsibilities of parish councils, and since the enactment of the Local Government and Rating Act of 1977, there has been an increase in the creation of new parish councils, especially in large towns and cities.

Powers and duties

Parish councils have the power to precept (tax) their residents to support their operations and to carry out local projects. Although there is no limit to the amount that can be precepted, the money can only be raised for a limited number of purposes, defined in the 1894 Act and subsequent legislation.

Powers to provide services and facilities

Parish councils have powers to provide some facilities themselves, or they can contribute towards their provision by others. There are large variations in the services provided by parishes, but they may include the following:

Allotments, support and encouragement of arts and crafts, provision of village halls, recreation grounds, parks, children’s play areas, playing fields and swimming baths, cemeteries and crematoria, maintenance of closed churchyards, cleaning and drainage of ponds etc., control of litter, public conveniences, creation and maintenance of footpaths and bridleways (normally a County Council responsibility), provision of cycle and motorcycle parking, acquisition and maintenance of rights of way (also county council), public clocks, war memorials and encouragement of tourism.

They may also provide bus shelters, signposting of footpaths, lighting of footpaths, off-street car parks, and the provision, maintenance and protection of roadside verges, all subject to the consent of the county council. Parish councils must also be notified by the district or county council, and usually have a right to comment upon all planning applications in their areas, any intention to provide a burial ground in the parish, or on proposals to carry out sewerage works, on footpath and bridleway (more generally, ‘rights of way’) surveys, and on any intention to make byelaws in relation to hackney carriages, licenses for music and dancing, and street naming.


The term of office of a parish council is four years and councils are elected en bloc.