Engaging Bristol communities for Census 2021

Census 2021 graphic
9 December, 2020


The next census will take place on 21 March 2021, and community engagement is vital to make sure we get accurate results – that’s why local engagement managers want to get in touch with community organisations in Bristol ahead of the day itself.

The census is a survey of people and households in the UK, taken at regular intervals for hundreds of years. Though the first official UK-wide census was in 1801, the census tradition for England dates back as far as 1086. It works as a snapshot of people’s lives at a given time: the size of their household, what jobs they do, and so on.

Unlike other surveys, filling in the census is compulsory; anyone who repeatedly fails to complete it can be fined up to £1,000. Community engagement can really help spread the message and underline the importance of taking part.
These are some of the main reasons the census matters:

  • Once the data is collected by the Office for National Statistics (in England and Wales), local and central government will use the information to feed into policy on education, housing, transport and much more.
  • Charities and community organisations can use the data to help with funding applications – for example, showing the demographics of a particular area.
  • Academics, students, businesses and genealogists also use the census in their work. Records are released to the general public 100 years after the census took place.
  • Census 2021 is digital-first, which means it can be completed online. There will be a support centre, and information in different languages and formats, to help with the process. Data protection is taken seriously, abiding by laws such as the Data Protection Act 2018 and GDPR, and data won’t be sold on to third parties.
  • As mentioned earlier, it is compulsory to take part in the census; anyone who doesn’t complete it is breaking the law. However, there are some questions in the census that are clearly marked as voluntary.
  • The census will gather important information on gender identity – currently there are no official figures held by the Office for National Statistics (ONS) on how many people identify as a different gender to the one they were assigned at birth. You can read more about ONS question development on sex and gender identity here. Questions on sexual orientation and gender identity are voluntary, and only asked of people aged 16 and over.

Iain Bell, deputy national statistician at the Office for National Statistics, said:

“A successful census will ensure everyone from local government to charities can put services and funding in the places where they are most needed; this could mean things like doctors’ surgeries, schools and new transport routes. That’s why it is so important everyone takes part.”

If your organisation would like to get involved in community engagement around the census and you are based in Bristol, please email jason.john46@field.census.gov.uk or stefan.edwards10@field.census.gov.uk. You can also download community resources here.