Changes to local councils
From 1 April 2015, 11 new councils took over from the previous 26 under a programme of reform. The new councils provide the same services as the previous councils, but now have a number of new powers and responsibilities.
A number of functions which were previously delivered by Northern Ireland Executive departments are now carried out by local councils. These include:
- local planning functions
- off-street parking
- local economic development
The new councils also lead a community planning process. This is done in partnership with other public service providers to collectively address local problems.
Find out more about the changes to planning.
Responsibilities of local councils
Local councils are responsible for service areas, including:
- waste collection and disposal
- recycling and waste management
- local planning functions
- civic amenity provision
- grounds maintenance
- street cleaning
- public conveniences
- food safety
- health and safety
- environmental protection
- environmental improvement
- estates management - building design and maintenance
- building control-inspection and regulation of new buildings
- dog control
- licensing, such as entertainment licensing
- enforcement byelaws such as those around litter
- sports, leisure services and recreational facilities
- parks, open spaces and playgrounds
- community centres
- arts, heritage and cultural facilities
- registration of births, deaths and marriages
- local development plan functions
- development control and enforcement
- off-street parking (except Park and Ride)
Local economic development (transfer from Invest NI)
- Start a Business Programme and Enterprise Shows
- youth entrepreneurship (such as Prince’s Trust and Shell Livewire)
- social entrepreneurship
- Investing for Women
- neighbourhood renewal funding relating to enterprises initiatives
- small-scale tourism accommodation development
- providing business support including business start-up advice, along with training and delivery of customer care schemes
- providing advice to developers on tourism policies and related issues
- control of alterations, extension and demolition of listed buildings
- conservation area designation and management
- listed building enforcement notices
- compensation where listed building consent has been revoked or modified
- issuing of Building Preservation Notices. This will allow a council to temporarily list a building for a period of six months pending Northern Ireland Environment Agency assessment of permanently protected status as a listed building. [This is commonly called spot-listing]
- issuing notices to require Urgent Works to preserve a building
- community listing (previously called Local Listing) of buildings of special architectural or historic interest
- some elements of the delivery of the EU Rural Development Programme (2014 to 2020)
- Armagh County Museum
- local water recreational facilities
- local sports (greater involvement of local government in local sports decisions)
- Donaghadee Harbour
Local councils are not responsible for the following areas:
- personal social services
- public housing
- fire service
- police service
- trading standards
- drainage water
- street lighting
- collection of rates
- urban regeneration
Getting involved with your local council
There are lots of ways you can get involved with your local council. From having your say on local issues and developments by responding to council consultations, to taking part in council events, talks and workshops.
You can also attend some council meetings and get access to meeting papers and notes.
To find out more visit your local council’s website or speak to your local councillor.
Mayors and ceremonial duties
Councils choose a mayor or chairperson and a deputy to undertake civic ceremonial duties.
Councillors are responsible for making decisions on behalf of the local community about local services, such as waste collections, tourism and leisure facilities.
Councillors are also appointed to represent their councils or elected members in general, on a number of public bodies.
If you want to voice any issues with your local councillor, contact them through your local council.
Councils have different ways of making decisions.
Most have a committee structure. This means the council will set up committees to deal with specific areas of the council’s business. These committees will make decisions or recommendations with the agreement of the council.
Councils can also make decisions using executive arrangements. This is where smaller groups of councillors take decisions on a range of matters within an agreed framework set out by the council.
Local councils get their funding from:
- government grants
- fees and charges for certain services
You can find out more about how local councils are funded on the Department for Communities (DfC)'s website.
Your rates bill
When setting the 2015/2016 rates, there was a move from 26 different district rates to 11. This meant everyone’s rates changed.
The District Rate Subsidy helps people who face a sudden and excessive increase in their rate bill when the new councils took over in April 2015. The Subsidy runs for a four-year period up to 2018-2019.
Making a complaint about your local council
If you have a concern or suggestion about a service, write or speak to a member of staff or the service manager. Contact information for this, and other council services, is listed on your local council's website or in the telephone directory.
If you are not happy with your reply
A service manager normally sends you a written reply within a certain number of working days from receiving your complaint.
If you are not satisfied with the reply, you can contact your council's complaints officer. The complaints officer will confirm that they have received your complaint and, after investigation with the department concerned, they will write to you.
Your local council will be committed to responding to a complaint within a set number of days. Local circumstances vary slightly and you should contact your local council for full details.
Taking your complaint further
The Northern Ireland Ombudsman investigates complaints about local councils.
Independent of central and local government, the Ombudsman's investigations are impartial. You can complain directly to the Ombudsman at any time, but usually after you have completed your local council's complaints procedure.
You can make a formal complaint in writing, by email, by fax and online. You can also contact the Ombudsman by freephone to ask for advice before submitting a complaint.
Making a complaint about a councillor
Councillors must follow certain rules that set out how they should behave and the standards they should keep to. This is called a code of conduct.
Read the code of conduct for councillors.
If you have a complaint about a councillor or feel that they have acted outside the code of conduct, you can contact the Northern Ireland Ombudsman.
You can make a formal complaint in writing, by email, by fax and online. You can also contact the Ombudsman to ask for advice before submitting a complaint.