Parish meetings polls, ballots and referenda are all part of the legal framework for town and parish councils. The same legislation applies to both town and parish councils but not to district and county councils. They can be used by residents as part of a parish meeting. This applies whether or not the community has a town or parish council.

Parish meetings are often called by town or parish councils to engage with their communities where a major or important issue is facing the community. They are also increasingly seen as a way of calling a vote of no confidence in the council.

Can residents call a parish meeting?

This is often called the rule of 6 and it may be a useful process for residents who wish discuss a specific matter. Meetings of the parish apply to both Town and Parish councils. A meeting of the parish may also call for a parish ballot or referendum. There are specific legal requirements as to calling such meetings. (LGA 1972)

A meeting of the parish is not the same as a parish council meeting.

A parish meeting is different to a parish council meeting. In essence a parish meeting is a meeting of the registered electors in a parish. Please note that a parish meeting does not have to be chaired by the Chairman of the parish council nor is there any legal requirement for the parish clerk to attend.(LGA 1972)

Councillors may attend but there is no requirement for them to be legally summoned to attend. If they are registered to vote in the parish they may vote like any other registered elector.

There are additional provisions relating to parish meetings where the purpose of the meeting is to discuss the dissolution of the parish council or the grouping of the parish council with other parish councils. (LGA 1972)

Please note that there are additional provisions for parishes which do not have a Parish Council. (LGA 1972)

What is a parish ballot, poll or referendum?

A parish ballot may also be known as a parish referendum. More correctly a parish ballot is a known in the legislation as a parish poll.

A parish poll may be demanded by at least ten or one third of the local electors present at a Parish Meeting or by the person presiding at the parish meeting (this does not have to be the parish council chairman).

The District Council or principal authority arranges the poll, which is much like an election, and the cost is added to the council tax of residents of the Parish/Town. The question for the poll should be worded very carefully at the meeting. No-one is bound by the result of the poll but a Parish Council would be wise to consider the results very carefully.

If we hold a parish referendum or poll who pays the costs?

Calling for a poll, ballot or referendum is an expensive process which is organised by the council's principal authority (the unitary, district or county council). The costs of which are recharged to the town or parish council.

Whilst residents may feel that an important point of principle has been won little will normally be achieved in practice. A vote of no confidence called by electors is not binding on the town or parish council. The community may feel better but it is financially worse off and the situation may remain unchanged.

Can residents call a vote of no confidence in the parish council?

Yes but it may be expensive and is not enforceable. To do this a “meeting of the parish” must be called. This meeting does not have to be called by the parish council or clerk. There are legal requirements as to the notice period and if a call is to be made for the closure, removal or dissolution of the council a different notice period applies.

The closure, removal or dissolution of a Town or Parish Council is NOT covered here as there are additional legal requirements.

The Ballot Box and Elections

The democratic process offers a far better solution and one which will gradually result in change – elections.

Many poor councils continually co-opt councillors rather than fostering the democratic tradition. In a democracy all councils should have provided for the cost of elections.

So rather than calling for votes of no confidence exercise your democratic right and call an election whenever the council has a casual vacancy. Over time you can change the composition of your council and once every 4 years all town and parish councillors must stand for re-election.

Remember the problem only arose because no one bothered to stand for election.