Local elections tend to take place on the first Thursday in May and if you are voting this year, you might be wondering how this differs from a general election.

When voting for your local councillors, it's just as important as voting for MPs in a general election.

It’s a chance to have your say on who you want to provide local services in your community.

Whether you need a refresher on what the difference is or you’re intrigued to find out a little bit more when it comes to voting in the country, here is everything you need to know about the difference between local and general elections.

What is a general election?

General elections are elections for the UK Parliament that normally take place every five years.

There are 650 Members of Parliament (MPs) in the UK Parliament.

MPs are elected using the First Past the Post system. You vote once for a candidate in your constituency and the candidate with the most votes becomes your MP.

The political party with the most MPs will then form a government and the leader of the party then becomes the Prime Minister.

To vote in a general election you must:

  • be registered to vote
  • be 18 or over on the day of the election
  • be a British, Irish or qualifying Commonwealth citizen
  • be resident at an address in the UK (or a British citizen living abroad who has been registered to vote in the UK in the last 15 years)
  • not be legally excluded from voting

What is a local election?

Local elections usually take place every four years for councils in your area and people vote for who they want to become councillors within their local authorities. 

However, not all local elections take place at the same time.

There are different types of local councils such as county councils and district councils, which tend to hold elections at different times.

What do local councils do?

Your local government will do one of the following:

  • elect all the local councillors every four years
  • elect half the local councillors every two years
  • elect one third of the local councillors every year for three years and hold no elections in the fourth year

Your local government is led by the party with the most seats but if they don’t have a majority of seats, they are able to form a coalition or lead as a minority.

To vote in a local government election you must:

  • be registered to vote
  • be 18 or over on the day of the election
  • be registered at an address in the area you want to vote in
  • not be legally excluded from voting

You must also be a British citizen, an Irish or EU citizen, a qualifying Commonwealth citizen, a citizen of another country living in Scotland or Wales who has permission to enter or stay in the UK, or someone who does not need permission.

Local government councillors in England are elected using the First Past the Post system. The ballot paper will tell you the number of candidates you can vote for.

The Northern Echo: At this years local elections, voters will need to show a form of ID at polling stationsAt this years local elections, voters will need to show a form of ID at polling stations (Image: Getty)

What is the difference between district councils, county councils, and MPs?

District councils tend to be responsible for council housing, local planning, recycling and refuse collection and leisure facilities.

Meanwhile, county councils look after education, transport, fire and public safety, social care and more.

County councillors represent electoral areas called divisions and in other types of councils, these areas are called wards.

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An electoral area (ward or division) may be represented by one, two, or three councillors.

Alternatively, MPs are the highest-ranked politicians and it’s their job to represent their constituencies' interests and concerns in the House of Commons. They consider and can propose new laws as well as raise issues that matter to the general public.

They also ask government ministers questions about current issues including those which affect local constituents.