What is the census?

The census is a once-in-a-decade survey that gives us the most accurate estimate of all the people and households in England and Wales.

The census asks questions about you, your household and your home. In doing so, it helps to build a detailed snapshot of our society. Information from the census helps the government and local authorities to plan and fund local services, such as education, doctors’ surgeries and roads.

At the Office for National Statistics (ONS), we’re responsible for planning and running the census in England and Wales. The next census takes place in 2021 and you can find out more on our census website.

National Records of Scotland and Northern Ireland Statistics and Research Agency run their own censuses and their websites have information on how you can take part.

What is information from the census used for?

Census information helps a wide range of people and organisations to do their work. All information is anonymised and the actual census records are kept secure for 100 years.

Here are some examples of some of the main users of census information and what they use it for.

Local authorities and other public bodies

The census is important to local authorities across England and Wales. It’s also vital to the government and many other public sector organisations.

This is because it gives them the information they need to:

  • develop policies
  • plan and run services, such as schools, health services, roads and libraries
  • decide how to allocate funds to make sure public funds get to where they are needed most

For example, census data showing how many people work in different jobs and industries is used to develop new job and training policies. Information on how people travel to work and how many cars they have contributes to planning roads and transport.

Businesses

Lots of companies use census information to help them understand their customers. For example, a supermarket chain might use census population data to help decide where to open a new store.

Voluntary organisations

Voluntary organisations often rely on census data to get information about the communities they are working in. They may also use census data as evidence to support any applications they make for funding.

Academics and students

Academics such as university professors often use census data to support research that they’re working on. Students use the data in a similar way to get the information they need for coursework and dissertations.

The public and genealogists

We can all use old census records for researching our family history – they’re released to the public 100 years after the census took place. The records provide a fantastic source of information we can use to find out more about our ancestors.