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Census 2021: What it is, Why do we do it, and what help is available?

Published on 02 March 2021 03:17 PM

The Census is coming. On 21 March 2021, the Office for National Statistics (ONS) will once again be calling upon the people of England and Wales to complete a census form. But what is the census, what purpose does it serve, and what help is on hand to fill it in?

What is the census?

The census is a survey that happens every 10 years and gives us a picture of all the people and households in England and Wales.

The last census took place on 27th March 2011 and revealed a lot about the country.

The kind of questions you will be asked include your name and address, your religion and ethnicity, your age and sex, details about the type of work that you do, and whether you have served in the Armed Forces. For the first time, two optional questions will be asked to do with your gender identity and your sexual orientation. Everyone must complete their census - it's a legal requirement and carries a fine of £1,000 for non-compliance.

The individual data is anonymised and kept secret for 100 years, whereupon it will be made available for people looking up their family history. Individual data is never shared with any other organisation outside of the ONS and there are strict data protection laws in place.

Why do we do the census?

The census is vital to understanding the make-up of a population, as well as highlighting changes in the past decade, and helps to inform decisions such as planning policy, housing need, public transport, demand for schools and healthcare, provision of care homes, and equality legislation, to name but a few. 

How to take part in the census 2021

Census 2021 is a digital-first census, which means that we will be encouraging people to respond online if they can. You will be able to complete the census using any device, including your mobile phone or tablet.

Every household in England and Wales will receive a letter at the start of March which invites them to take part in the census. This letter will have the Royal Coat of Arms at the top and contain a unique access code that enables people to access their questionnaire at Only genuine ONS codes will work on this website. Similarly, the letter will contain telephone numbers for our official
contact centre. (An example of an official letter can be seen to the left. 

To help people without access to technology or who lack digital skills, the ONS have set up an array of platforms:

  • Telephone capture - this is where people call a hotline to request to complete their census over the phone.

  • Paper forms - Anyone may request a paper form by calling the hotline or going online. Those identified as totally digitally excluded will be sent a paper form and will not receive a UAC.

What Help is Available?

For those who may need some support in completing the form there are different options available.

From the ONS

  • Online help - Click Here

  • Census Support Centres - These will be Covid-secure locations across the area, whereby people who need IT support can attend and complete their census form online with assistance. The exact method for this will be determined by government guidelines to ensure the safety of everyone. Some CSC's will also offer a telephone capture service, should people prefer to speak to a local voice.
    find out more about CSCs here.
  • Language support - This is available over the phone also.

  • Doorstep support - This will be Covid-dependent, but ONS staff will be available to assist completion outside of someone's home. They will never enter the property, or come within 2m of a person, and will use PPE. 
  • Contact Centres - calling the contact centre for free on 0800 141 2021 (for those living in England) or England NGT (text relay service) is avaliable on (18001) 0800 141 2021, as is the Language helpline on 0800 587 2021