Sunday, 3 July 2022 – 09:58

What is the census and why is it important?

Every 10 years, a national survey takes place in England and Wales called the census.

The census gathers huge amounts of information that can then be used by local authorities and different organisations to help provide key services and better understand the public. No other survey collects as much information about the people of the country.

Here’s a look at some key points about the census, what it involves and how you can be part of it.


What does the census involve?

The census is a questionnaire asking members of the public questions on a variety of topics. For example, the census for 2021 include questions (some voluntary) on topics such as;

  • what type of accommodation you live in
  • your marital or civil partnership statement
  • if you are a student
  • your ethnicity
  • your sexual orientation
  • your qualifications
  • your employment
  • where you work

This year, for the first time ever, the census will be held online, though paper forms will be available for those that need them.

In England and Wales, the census is run by the Office for National Statistics (ONS). The first census was held in England and Wales in the year 1801.


Do I have to get involved?

The census is described as ‘vital’, due to the data it collects being used to plan funding and delivery of key services. 

By law, people that live in England and Wales must complete the census. People that do not complete the census or that supply false information could be fined up to £1,000.

Data shared through the census is only published where it is anonymous and the Government cannot access your responses.


How do I get involved?

People will be sent a letter with an access code to complete the questionnaire online on Sunday 21 March, or as soon after as possible.

People who do not complete the questionnaire may be visited by a census officer, who will offer help and encouragement to take part.  The ONS is currently recruiting around 30,000 field staff to work on the census this year – the temporary jobs can be found at


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