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Background Census Information

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The Office for National Statistics (ONS) is responsible for the Census in England & Wales. The Census has been carried out every 10 years since 1801, except in 1941. The latest Census took place on March 27th 2011

What is the population Census?

The Census is the most comprehensive source of information about the country's population. It is a survey that covers everyone at the same time asking the same questions everywhere, making it easy to compare different parts of the country. It is a legal requirement that everyone be included in the Census.

The Census covers millions of households as well as communal establishments, for example care homes. It even includes British Citizens abroad on temporary postings with the armed forces, people sleeping rough and visitors.

Why is the Census important?
The Census produces statistics that are important because they help Government and other organisations to plan housing, education, health and transport services for the future. The Census provides valuable information about:

  • The count of population, this is used when calculating grant allocation to local government and health authorities.
  • Health and care, enabling Government to plan Health and Social Services.
  • Housing and households, giving an indication of housing need.
  • The availability of cars and travel to and from work, helping Planners to understand how much pressure the transport system is under.


Reliability of Census results
Although the Census is the most comprehensive source of data about the population, results should not be regarded as wholly accurate or precise. This is for number of reasons:

  • Not all people were covered by the Census.
  • Some people did not answer all the questions.
  • Some answers given may have been incorrect.


Comparison with previous Censuses.
Extreme caution should be exercised if making comparisons with previous Censuses, as this may lead to obtaining misleading results. Comparisons are complicated by the following factors:

  • There are a number of definitional changes. For example, in 2011 the Chinese ethnic group is included under the broad sub-category of Asian, in 2001 it was under the sub-category of ‘Other ‘ethnic group.
  • Changes in geographic boundaries.
  • Adjustment for under-enumeration, this is where adjustments are for people who were thought not to have been recorded by the Census Survey.

To see more information about how the survey was conducted, the reliability of the results and glossary of terms please visit the Office for National Statistics website.

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Last Updated : 6th January 2014