Why we assess organisations’ classifications

It is important that organisations are correctly classified so that we can produce robust statistics on the size and composition of the public sector. Accurate classifications are also important for the international comparability of statistics on public sector size and spending.

There are a number of reasons why your organisation may be scheduled for assessment:

  • if your organisation is a newly-created body that does not yet have a classification
  • if new legislation or international guidance on classifications means that your organisation’s classifications status may have changed
  • there are other reasons to believe your organisation may be incorrectly classified

The decision to assess an organisation’s classification status is usually made by Office for National Statistics (ONS) or following a request by HM Treasury or one of the devolved administrations.

What happens once a case is scheduled for assessment

Once a case is scheduled for assessment, it is usually recorded in the ONS classifications forward work plan along with an estimated completion date. This is updated as the case progresses.

We collate information for a classification case from publicly-available sources as well as asking HM Treasury and/or the relevant devolved administrations for relevant information. Once collated this evidence is analysed against the rules and guidance set out in the internationally-agreed framework for economic statistics classifications. A classification recommendation is then made by the Economic Statistics Classifications Committee, a group of national accounts experts. This recommendation is then considered by the Director of Macroeconomic and Environment Statistics and Analysis (MESA) who makes the final classification decision. To ensure transparency, the decision is subsequently published on our website in the Public Sector Classifications Guide, along with an explanation of the main factors that contributed to the outcome.

More information about the classifications process is available. If your organisation is being classified, you do not need to do anything unless you are contacted by the government body that is responsible for providing us with evidence.

How we will keep you informed

In most circumstances, we will write to you at the start of the process to confirm that your classification status is being considered and also once a decision has been reached. In some cases, such as where a very large number of organisations are being considered as a group, we may vary this process while taking reasonable steps to ensure you are kept updated, such as by informing an appropriate representative or membership body.

We are not able to provide updates on the potential outcome of an ongoing case. Until all evidence has been gathered and analysed, and a decision reached by the Director of Macroeconomic Statistics and Analysis, it is not possible to say what the outcome will be.

Classification reviews

At times we will check that the circumstances that were considered of relevance when classifying an organisation have not changed since the original classification decision. Typically, these reviews will be based on publicly-available information and there will be no notification that a review is taking place. However, if that review identifies evidence to suggest that the existing classification may no longer be appropriate then we will instigate a formal classification assessment and the relevant parties will be notified as set out previously.

What it means if an organisation is reclassified

An organisation’s classification status is a purely statistical matter that does not have any direct implications for an organisation’s legal status, ownership or management structure. The only change is to how an organisation is accounted for in official statistics. However, we are aware that other government bodies make use of our Public Sector Classification Guide for administrative purposes unrelated to the production of official statistics. Therefore, if you feel there may be practical implications for your organisation following an ONS classifications decision you should raise this with the relevant government body as we will not be in a position to advise.

Where to go if you have questions

Answers to most questions about the classifications process can be found on the classifications process page. A simple explanation of the process is also available.

If your query is about when a decision will be reached on an ongoing case, you can find the latest update on when we expect to reach a decision on the economic statistics classification log and forward workplan.

If you have queries relating to evidence you have been asked to provide to inform an ONS classifications case, please contact the government body co-ordinating evidence gathering. If the information on these pages does not answer your question or you are unsure about who can answer your query then you can contact the Classifications Team at econstats.classifications@ons.gov.uk. As explained previously, we cannot give updates on a case’s potential outcome.