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When is the census and why is it important?

When is the census and why is it important?
Image source: Getty Images


The next census is just around the corner! It’s on Sunday 21 March, to be precise, at least for England, Wales and Northern Ireland. Due to the impact of the pandemic, the 2021 census in Scotland has been moved to 2022. 

What is the census?

The census is a survey that happens once every ten years. It gives the most accurate estimate of the households and people in each country in the UK – England, Wales, Scotland and Northern Ireland.

The census also collects information to help the government evaluate how people live and identify their future needs. The government and local authorities can then plan and fund local services like schools, hospitals, libraries, roads and doctors’ surgeries.

The information is also used to develop policies. For example, data on the number of people working in different industries or jobs can be used to create new jobs and establish training policies. Businesses can also use population data to identify where to open stores.

Who is responsible for planning and running the census?

The bodies responsible for running the census are:

What is the digital-first census?

You might have heard about preparations for the digital-first census in 2021. It is simply a platform that allows you to complete your census online.

You will need an access code sent to you via post or text to complete your census online and, of course, a device that can connect to the internet. If you live in England or Wales, see how to get your code on the gov.uk website. For those residing in Northern Ireland, find out how to get your code on the NI gov.uk website.

Online support is available on the government websites. You only need to note which country you reside in and visit the respective website. Help will be provided by text messages, phone, email, webchat and social media.

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Must you take part in the census?

Yes. Taking part in the census is a legal obligation and failure to complete your census could mean an up to £1,000 fine or a criminal record. It is not an offence if you don’t answer questions labelled as voluntary.

The owner of your place of residence will ask you some questions and fill the census on your behalf.

If you are staying in the UK for less than three months, then you are not required to take part.

Students must be counted too!

Students, especially those who are not at home (during term time), must be counted at both their term-time and home addresses so that the population can be counted accurately.

Are there any changes to the census in 2021?

The 2021 census is asking people aged 16 and above about their sexual orientation. You might also come across a household section asking questions about renewable energy systems.

Some questions have also been removed. For example, you may no longer be required to indicate when you last worked or how many rooms are in your house.

The information collected will help the government get new knowledge to improve its understanding of the pandemic. This means that the planning and funding of future services will incorporate the needs of the changing society.

What happens if you don’t submit your census?

The Office for National Statistics points out that it will send its census field officers to your household at the end of March and into April. The field officers’ agenda will be to encourage people to complete the census and offer help where needed.

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