You may have already received a letter about the 2021 census or have seen adverts on social media, TV or the radio. But what is the Census? What is it for? And do I really have to fill it in? The census comes every 10 years and the next one, for most of the UK, is due this month. So let me answer your questions so you can answer their questions.
So, what is the census for then?
The census is a survey that is taking place on 21st March 2021, the survey is of all households in England, Wales and Northern Ireland. The census is conducted every ten years and is vital in letting organisations like the Government, local councils and other public bodies know how to allocate funding for education, transport, healthcare and other public services. Other organisations also use the data collected for activity like research, marketing and planning. We ourselves at StreetCheck use the data from the last census to provide demographic information for neighbourhood searches on this website.
Sounds like a lot of surveys will be going out, who is handling that then?
The census in England and Wales is run by the Office for National Statistics (ONS). Northern Ireland's census also takes part 21st March 2021 and is being handled by NISRA (Northern Ireland Statistics and Research Agency).
Initial letters regarding the census are already going out now. The forms are expected to take about 10 minutes to fill in for the household and about 10 more minutes per person. Letters are already going out to householders with details of how to complete the upcoming census form.
Do I really need to fill in this form, seems like a lot of hassle?
Yes! Not completing your form can potentially lead to a maximum fine of £1,000 and a criminal record. After the last Census approximately 120 people were convicted for not completing census forms from 20111.
That seems really harsh, what if I forget for some reason?
Fortunately, in genuine cases it is not straight to court for you. Typically the ONS will give you the opportunity to complete the form if it is "forgotten" and again they will give you opportunities to complete the form before a court summons and again before a court case. After census day the ONS will send out field officers to homes that have not completed a census form to encourage and offer help completing forms. These officers will be following all guidelines related to Covid-19 and will be wearing Personal Protective Equipment.
What sort of questions will the census ask?
The census will be collecting demographic data so will ask questions about things like your age, sex, marital status, what education you have had, your ethnic group and your religious beliefs. Whilst completing the form is mandatory some questions will be clearly labelled as optional.
Can I do it online?
Sure thing, this census is a "digital-first census" and people are being actively encouraged to complete the forms online on computer, laptop, tablet and even mobile phone. You will receive your own unique household access code to go online and complete your survey.
So who fills it in then?
One person per household can complete the form, no need to pass the form to each person living there! Census 2021 states:
"Every householder at an address is responsible for completing a census questionnaire for their household. The householder should either answer the individual questions for all household members or make sure each member answers their own."
Can I fill my survey in early or do I have to complete it on the 21st March 2021?
Yes, you can complete your survey early as long as you are sure that there will not be any changes in the make-up of your household before the census date. If there are any changes you will need to contact the census organisers to advise of this (see our contacts link at end of this article).
I think I may need help completing my form, is there someone who can fill my form in for me?
You can contact your local Census Support Centre for support and help filling in your census forms. Whilst they are not currently open for visits due to Covid-19 you can still contact them by phone.
Is my census survey confidential? If StreetCheck can use census data can other people find out how I filled in the survey?
All our information is anonymous, and is aggregated into groups called Output Areas before we receive it, so we have no access to individual census responses.
In England and Wales individual census responses are not made available publicly until 100 years have passed. This was originally enforced through the Lord Chancellor's Instrument no.12, issued in 1966 under S.5 (1) of the Public Records Act 1958. That has been effectively nullified by the Freedom of Information Act 2000 (FOI Act). Despite this, Freedom of Information requests may be (and have been) denied under S41 of the FOI Act, which allows for the information to remain private where the information was provided to the public authority in confidence.
The Census 2021 website details how they will handle Your data and security.
What about Scotland, are they having a census?
Scotland's census will be performed in March 2022, you can sign up for updates and a newsletter by visiting Scotland's Census.