What is the census and when is the next one in the UK?

THE census is a survey that takes place every ten years – and the next one has to be completed TODAY, Sunday March 21.

It will give an accurate estimate of all the people and households in England, Northern Ireland and Wales, but what else do we know?

What is the census?

The census gathers detailed information on the country's population, their characteristics, education, religion, ethnicity, working life and health.

The compulsory survey is the most important single source of information about the size and characteristics of the country's population.

Modern censuses have been taking place every ten years since 1801 with the exception of 1941 (during World War Two) and in Ireland, in 1921.

The Office of National Statistics (ONS), which carries out the survey, says it helps to give a "complete picture of the nation".

The census helps provide vital information that the government needs to develop policies, plan and run public services and allocate funding.

The ONS said personal information on a census is only used for statistical purposes and it will never sell or share personal information with anyone.

When is the next census?


England's next census is taking place today, Sunday, March 21 2021.

Guidelines on the official website claim the survey "should take about 10 minutes for the household questions and 10 minutes per person".

Those refusing to complete the survey risk a £1,000 fine.

Northern Ireland

People in Northern Ireland must also complete their census today, Sunday, March 21 2021.

In NI, the Northern Ireland Statistics and Research Agency (NISRA) is responsible for the census.


It was postponed in Scotland until 2022 due to the Covid pandemic, so UK-wide results will be collated later.

National Records of Scotland (NRS) is responsible for Scotland’s Census.


The next census in Wales is also taking place today, Sunday, March 21 2021.

The Office for National Statistics is responsible for planning and running the census for both England and Wales.

Is the census being scrapped?

The UK's national statistician, Professor Sir Ian Diamond, recently announced that the government is looking at getting "to a similar place, more quickly, using different strategies".

The current estimated cost of the next count is £906million, nearly double the cost of the 2011 one.

Cheaper alternatives could include using current administrative data like GP lists, Ordnance Survey, council tax records and driving licence details.

This could be combined with large scale population surveys to achieve a similar level of accuracy to the census, which relies on people filling out a lengthy form.

But Peter Benton, director of population and public policy operations at the ONS, told the BBC that the census is the "fundamental bedrock of our statistical system".

Organisations such as local authorities and charities use the information it gathers to build a picture of what services communities might need, such as around transport, education and healthcare.

For example it could inform the planning and funding around doctors' surgeries, housing or bus routes.

What happens to the census records?

Statistics obtained from recent censuses can be found at the ONS website but if you want to dig back even further you can go to the National Archives.

No personal data is released or shared by the ONS, but people can look at profiles of the country and their local area.

ONS carries out a number of checks before publishing results to protect people's personal information.


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