United Kingdom Census 2011

The organisation issuing 2011 census data for Scotland is the General Register Office for Scotland (GROS). For the organisation that took over GROS in April 2011, see National Records of Scotland (NRS).
The English language logo for "2011 Census for England, Northern Ireland and Wales"

A census of the population of the United Kingdom is taken every ten years. The 2011 census was held in all countries of the UK on 27 March 2011. It was the first UK census which could be completed online via the Internet.[1] The Office for National Statistics (ONS) is responsible for the census in England and Wales, the General Register Office for Scotland (GROS) is responsible for the census in Scotland, and the Northern Ireland Statistics and Research Agency (NISRA) is responsible for the census in Northern Ireland.

The Office for National Statistics is the executive office of the UK Statistics Authority, a non-ministerial department formed in 2008 and which reports directly to Parliament. ONS is the UK Government's single largest statistical producer of independent statistics on the UK's economy and society, used to assist the planning and allocation of resources, policy-making and decision-making.[2] ONS designs, manages and runs the census in England and Wales. In its capacity as the national statistics office for the United Kingdom, ONS also compiles and releases census tables for the United Kingdom when the data from England and Wales, Scotland and Northern Ireland are complete.

In the run-up to the census both the main UK political parties expressed concerns about the increasing cost and the value for money of the census, and it was suggested that the 2011 census might be the last decennial census to be taken.[3]

The first results from the 2011 census, age and sex, and occupied households estimates for England and Wales and Northern Ireland, were released on 16 July 2012.[4] The first results for Scotland,[5] and the first UK-wide results, were published on 17 December 2012.[6] More detailed and specialised data were published from 2013.



The Registrar General John Rickman conducted the first census of Great Britain's population, and was responsible for the ten-yearly reports published between 1801 and 1831. During the first 100 years of census-taking the population of England and Wales grew more than threefold, to around 32 million, and that of Scotland, where a separate census has been carried out since 1861, to about 4.5 million.

From 1911 onwards rapid social change, scientific breakthroughs, and major world events affected the structure of the population. A fire that destroyed census records in 1931, and the declaration of war in 1939, made the 1951 census hugely significant in recording 30 years of change over one of the most turbulent periods in British history.

The 1971 census was run by the newly created Office of Population Censuses and Surveys (OPCS), a body formed by the merger of the General Register Office and Government Social Survey. In 1996 the Office for National Statistics (ONS) was formed by merging the Central Statistical Office (CSO), OPCS and the statistics division of the Department of Employment; the first census it ran was in 2001.[2] In 2008 the UK Statistics Authority was established as an independent body.


A population census is a key instrument for assessing the needs of local communities. When related to other data sources such as housing or agricultural censuses, or sample surveys, the data becomes even more useful. Most countries of the world take censuses: the United Nations recommends that countries take a census at least once every ten years. Twenty-one out of 40 countries in Europe are engaged in the 2010–2011 census round[7] The design for the 2011 census reflects changes in society since 2001 and asks questions to help paint a detailed demographic picture of England and Wales, as it stands on census day, 27 March. Data collected by the census is used to provide statistical outputs which central government uses to plan and allocate local authority services funding, and which local authorities themselves use to identify and meet the needs of their local communities. Other organisations that use census data include healthcare organisations, community groups, researchers and businesses. The questionnaires, including people’s personal information, are kept confidential for 100 years before being released to the public, providing an important source of information for historical, demographic and genealogy research.[8]

2011 Census for England and Wales

Census 2011
Area England and Wales
Registrar Jil Matheson[9][10]
(as National Statistician)
Census day(s) 27 March 2011
Issuing organisation ONS
Data supplier Lockheed Martin UK
Rehearsal 11 October 2009
Rehearsal Areas Lancaster, Newham, Anglesey
Census forms Household[9][10] and others
1st release Jul 2012 – Nov 2012[11]
2nd release Dec 2012 – Feb 2013[11]
3rd release Mar 2013 – Jun 2013[11]
4th release Jul 2013 – Oct 2013[11]
Website ,


The 2011 census for England and Wales included around 25 million households. Questionnaires were posted out to all households, using a national address register compiled by the Office for National Statistics (ONS) with the help of local authorities through comparisons of the National Land and Property Gazetteer (NLPG) and the Royal Mail and Ordnance Survey national address products.

People could complete and submit their questionnaire online, or fill it in on paper and post it back in a pre-addressed envelope. Guidance was provided online and through the census helpline. Completed questionnaires were electronically tracked and field staff followed up with households that did not return a questionnaire. Special arrangements were made to count people living in communal establishments such as; boarding schools, prisons, military bases, hospitals, care homes, student halls of residence, hotels, royal apartments and embassies, as well as for particular communities; rough sleepers, travellers and those living on waterways. In these cases field staff delivered and collected questionnaires and, where needed, provided advice or assistance in completing the questionnaire.

There was a legal requirement to complete the 2011 census questionnaire, under the terms of the Census Act 1920. As at 27 March 2011 everyone who had lived or intended to live in the country for three months or more was required to complete a questionnaire. Failure to return a completed questionnaire could lead to a fine and criminal record.


Front page of the 2011 census form.

Lockheed Martin UK, the UK arm of US-based aerospace, defence, security, and technology company Lockheed Martin was awarded the contract to provide services for the census comprising questionnaire printing, a customer contact centre and data capture and processing. The contract is valued at £150 million, approximately one third of the total £482 million census budget.

Concerns were raised during contract negotiations that the US PATRIOT Act could be used to force Lockheed Martin to reveal census data to US authorities.[12] The Cabinet Office state that Lockheed Martin will "develop the systems" used to process census data, but that "in essence ... neither Lockheed Martin UK nor any Lockheed Martin employee will have access to personal Census data."[13] The Office for National Statistics stated that no personal census information will ever leave the UK or be seen by any American-owned company.[14]

Several groups called for a boycott of the census over the involvement of Lockheed Martin, including the Stop the War Coalition,[15] and the Christian thinktank Ekklesia.[15] The groups were concerned about sharing data with a company involved in surveillance and data processing for the CIA and FBI; and also providing funding to an arms company making nuclear missiles and cluster bombs.[15] The Green Party also objected, and campaigned unsuccessfully to stop Lockheed Martin getting the contract, although no decision was made about whether or not to call for a boycott. The Census Alert campaign group also decided against calling for a boycott.[16]

Liberal Conspiracy said a boycott would be counter-productive, as the Census is used to distribute funding to local services. Liberal Conspiracy reports that a council may lose £22,000 over 10 years for each person who does not complete the census.[17]

The census for England and Wales was trialled in 135,000 households in Lancaster, the London Borough of Newham and Anglesey on 11 October 2009. A test was also carried out in Birmingham at the same time.[18] The questions for the 2011 Census are the same as those trialled in the 2009 Census Rehearsal. The Order for the 2011 Census (including the proposed question topics, census date and who should complete the questionnaire) was laid before Parliament in October 2009 and was approved by Parliament and became law in December 2009.

Capita Group was contracted by ONS to recruit, train and administer the pay for the 35,000 temporary ONS workers who worked as field staff for the 2011 census.[19]

Costs and value for money

The total cost of the 2011 Census in England and Wales over the period from 2004/05 to 2015/16 is estimated to be £482 million.[20] This is more than twice the £210m spent on the 2001 census.[21] This breaks down to a cost of 87 pence per person, per year (over the life of the census – ten years). “The cost equates to about 87p a year per person, demonstrating excellent value for money. The per capita costs in the UK are less than for many other European countries that carry out similar censuses. In summary, this census will meet crucial requirements for statistical information that Government and others cannot do without.” Minister of State, Cabinet Office (Angela E. Smith).[22]

Both the main UK political parties had expressed concerns about the rising costs and value of a ten-yearly census, and on coming into office the UK coalition government had gone as far as suggesting that the 2011 census might be the last of its kind. In July 2010 the UK government asked ONS to explore other methods of measuring the population. In 2011 the three national statistics bodies, ONS, GROS and NISRA set up a co-ordinated research project known as Beyond 2011. The objectives of the programme were to assess the feasibility of improving UK population statistics using integrated data sources to replace or complement existing approaches, and whether alternative data sources could provide the priority statistics on the characteristics of small populations typically provided by a census.[3] The project reported its findings in March 2014 and recommended that a UK-wide census in 2021 should take place, and that better use should be made of other demographic data sources.[23]

Changes from 2001 census

The ethnic group question used in the 2011 census in England.

The general style of the questionnaire is similar to that of the 2001 census. A rehearsal questionnaire was released in 2009. Several new identity and status options were included for the first time. Other changes for 2011 included:

In 2001 only 38 people were reported to have been prosecuted for refusing to complete a questionnaire. In 2011 those who refused to complete the census questionnaire or included false information could face a fine of up to £1,000. A team of compliance staff were recruited to follow up by visiting those householders who refused to complete a questionnaire or where their questionnaire was not returned or completed correctly.[33]


Advertising promoted the notion of how the UK 2011 census would help to shape Britain's future in areas such as healthcare and education. TV adverts, for example, depicted Origami, in census colours, forming objects including school computers and buses. A short sentence under the census logo informed the viewer that the census was a duty that must be undertaken. From 7 April 2011 advertising focused on reminding people to complete and return by post or submit online.


An advert in Cornwall telling people how to describe their ethnicity and national identity as Cornish.

While in opposition, the Conservatives termed the census as a "sex snoopers charter", accusing it of infringing on privacy.[33]

In a Commons Debate on population and the traditional enumeration methodology of the 2011 Census, Conservative Party Chairman and MP for Horsham Francis Maude, said:[34]

“The UK Statistics Authority is responsible for carrying out the census in England and Wales. The board of the authority has expressed the view that the 2011 census should be the last conduction on the traditional basis. Through the 'Beyond 2011' project the authority has been considering alternative ways of obtaining information that has been traditionally gathered via a census.
The current advice from the ONS is clear. Census alternatives are not sufficiently developed to provide now the information required to meet essential UK and EU requirements. It is therefore important that the census goes ahead in England and Wales on 27 March 2011. ONS must do all it can to ensure it is a success."

Although some 37,000 people recorded their identity as Cornish by manually writing it on the form in the 2001 census,[35] no tick-box was provided in 2011 to select Cornish as an identity, despite campaigns.[36][37] As a consequence, posters were created by the census organisation and Cornwall Council which advised residents of how they could identify themselves as Cornish by writing it in the national identity, ethnicity and main language sections.[38] Additionally, people could record Cornwall as their country of birth.[39]

During the consultation on the 2011 census the British Humanist Association raised several concerns about question 20, "What is your religion?". The BHA argued it was a leading question, and suggested that it should be phrased as two questions, "Do you have a religion?" and "If so, what is it?". It contended that by placing the religion question near the ethnicity question it would encourage some responders to associate religion with cultural identity. The BHA also ran adverts during March 2011 encouraging the use of the 'no religion' box in the questionnaire[40]

2011 Census for Northern Ireland

Census 2011
Area Northern Ireland
Registrar T N Caven[41][42]
(as Registrar General, Northern Ireland)
Census day(s) 27 March 2011
Issuing organisation NISRA
Data supplier Lockheed Martin UK[43]
Rehearsal 11 October 2009[44]
Rehearsal Areas Derriaghy and Moy & Benburb[44]
Census forms Household,[41] Individual,[42] and others
1st release Jul 2012 – Sep 2012[45]
2nd release Dec 2012 – Feb 2013[45]
3rd release Mar 2013 – Jun 2013[45]
4th release Jul 2013 – Oct 2013[45]


The 2011 Census for Northern Ireland had 59 questions in total. 14 were about the household and its accommodation and 45 questions were for each individual member of the household to complete.[46]

The rehearsal was held on Sunday 11 October 2009 in two areas, Derriaghy and Moy & Benburb, covering approximately 5,000 households.[44]

The 2011 Census for Northern Ireland costing around £21.8 million over the six-year period 2008–2014.[46] Over the ten-year cycle the cost Is expected to be about £25 million.[46]

2011 Census for Scotland

Census 2011
Area Scotland
Registrar Duncan Macniven[47]
(as Registrar General, Scotland)
Census day(s) 27 March 2011
Issuing organisation GROS, now part of NRS
Data supplier CACI
Rehearsal 29 March 2009[48]
Rehearsal Areas west Edinburgh, Lewis and Harris[48]
Census forms Household,[47] and others
1st release Dec 2012 – May 2013[49]
2nd release Summer 2013[49]
3rd release Autumn 2013[49]
4th release Winter 2013[49]
Website ,
The ethnic group question used in the 2011 census in Scotland.

In Scotland, a wholly owned subsidiary of information technology company CACI was contracted to gather information. CACI "provided interrogators who worked at Abu Ghraib prison at the height of the prisoner abuse scandal".[50]

The 2011 Scotland Census asked 13 household questions and up to 35 questions for each individual. Plans were rehearsed in west Edinburgh and Lewis and Harris.[51]

The 2011 census was the first to include a question asking about the ability to read, write and understand the Scots language alongside the question for ability in Scottish Gaelic and English languages.

Release plans for 2011 Census statistics

Responsibility for the release of data from the 2011 census is split between the Office for National Statistics (ONS) for England and Wales, the General Register Office for Scotland (GROS) for Scotland and the Northern Ireland Statistics and Research Agency (NISRA). The ONS announced in March the release plan for the results of the 2011 census which stated in July 2012.[52] NISRA made a similar announcement with identical release plan.[53] In June 2012 GROS advised on its release plan which commences in December 2012.[54] The releases will comprise data sets enabling the standard comparison with previous census data reports as well as over a hundred new data sets based on the new questions asked in the 2011 census.


NISRA, ONS and GROS each publish a schedule stating what documents they will release and when. Those documents are called a "prospectus". Each prospectus isn't fixed, but changes as schedules are changed or documents are late. The prospectuses are linked to in the table below.

AreaIssuing Authority Current Prospectus and Release Plans
United KingdomOffice for National Statistics (ONS) – UK Wide Census Releases
England and WalesOffice for National Statistics (ONS) – England and Wales Census Releases
ScotlandGeneral Registrar Office for Scotland (GROS) – Scotland 2011 Census Releases
Northern IrelandNorthern Ireland Statistics and Research Authority (NISRA) – Northern Ireland 2011 Census Releases

Release schedules

Publication of the 2011 census results

The United Kingdom Statistics Authority is responsibility for coordinating of release of census data by the devolved statistics authorities. It publishes UK-wide census data results via the Office for National Statistics (ONS) site. The UK Statistics Authority also provides a central point of reference for all country-specific census data releases via its Publications Hub site.

Primary responsibility for country-specific 2011 census data rests with the statistical authorities for each of the UK's constituent countries. Each authority has at least one dedicated central source from which data can be downloaded or ordered. For England and Wales the ONS provides the access to primary data via its 2011 census site. Additionally, data organised by local authority or post code is available on the Neighbourhood Statistics site, and nomis, a source of detailed census results which can be assembled into bespoke data sets. For Scotland the General Registrar Office for Scotland (GROS) part of National Records of Scotland (NRS) to maintain access via its Scotlands Census site, and for Northern Ireland the Statistics and Research Authority (NISRA) uses the Northern Ireland Neighbourhood Information Service (NINIS).

Pre-defined statistical tables

The format of all the pre-defined statistical tables is standardised as far as practical across the publishing authorities. Since the 2001 UK Census the naming conventions for the tables have been revised following research into the approaches adopted by other census publishing bodies around the world.[61]

Bulk data

The statistical authorities are also making available bulk data in Comma-separated values (CSV) file format which can be downloaded from online data warehouse facilities.

Commissioned data

In addition to the standard releases and online bulk access the statistical authorities provide a commissioned data service whereby other data configurations can be purchased, under license, by customers and will subsequently made freely available to other users.

See also


  1. The 2011 Census programme Office for National Statistics.
  2. 1 2 The History of the Office for National Statistics
  3. 1 2 Background to Beyond 2011 Office for National Statistics website, Retrieved 4 May 2014
  4. ONS.gov.uk – First census release 16 July 2012
  5. Census Results Scotland's 2011 Census, Accessed 26 April 2013
  6. Release: 2011 Census, Population and Household Estimates for the United Kingdom, Accessed 26 April 2013
  7. 2010 World Population and Housing Programme, United Nations Statistics Division
  8. Legislation, 2011 Census Project
  9. 1 2
  10. 1 2
  11. 1 2 3 4
  12. Ryan, Jennifer (29 January 2008). "Lockheed Faces Scrutiny on Concern for U.K. Census". Bloomberg. Retrieved 6 March 2011.
  13. Cabinet Office (December 2008). Helping to Shape Tomorrow: The 2011 Census of Population and Housing in England and Wales (PDF). UK: The Stationery Office. p. 100. ISBN 978-0-10-175132-2. Retrieved 6 March 2011.
  14. "US firm gets UK census contract". Public Service. 29 August 2008. Retrieved 6 March 2011.
  15. 1 2 3 David Sharrock & Jamie Doward (19 February 2011). "Boycott the UK census over links to Lockheed Martin, protesters say". The Guardian. London. Retrieved 6 March 2011.
  16. Census Alert
  17. Paskini, Don (21 February 2011). "Boycotting the Census is a counter-productive move". Retrieved 6 March 2011.
  18. 2009 Census rehearsal. Office for National Statistics.
  19. Capita wins contract for 2011 census. Capita. March 19, 2009.
  20. Savvas, Antony (15 December 2008). "Cost of 2011 Census spirals despite online forms". Computer Weekly. Retrieved 6 March 2011.
  21. General Committee Debates, Commons Debates, Hansard, 30 November 2009
  22. The census and future provision of population statistics in England and Wales UK Statistics Authority published 27 March 2014, Accessed 4 May 2014
  23. Cross, Michael; Arthur, Charles (5 June 2008). "Traditional census 'is obsolete'". The Guardian. London. Retrieved 6 March 2011.
  24. The questions we're asking. 2011 Census.
  25. Turner, Lauren (December 11, 2008). Next census aims to map migrant populations. The Independent.
  26. Equality and Human Rights Commission repeats calls for gay census question. Pink News. August 17, 2009.
  27. Household Questionnaire England
  28. 2011 census form to include Welsh tick-box. WalesOnline. December 12, 2008
  29. 1 2 'Bedroom snooper' row over census. BBC News. October 25, 2009.
  30. 1 2 2011 census questions published. BBC News. October 21, 2009.
  31. "Final recommended questions for the 2011 Census in England and Wales: Ethnic group" (PDF). Office for National Statistics. October 2009. p. 4. Retrieved 8 March 2015.
  32. 1 2 Buchanan, Kirsty (October 25, 2009). Census to quiz on sex life. Daily Express.
  33. Daily Hansard – Written Answers, Commons Debates, Hansard, 26 July 2010
  34. This is Cornwall – Campaign to proclaim nationality as 'Cornish' in 2011 Census gets public backing – 5 March 2011
  35. MPs reject 'Cornish' nationality on 2011 census. BBC News. 1 December 2009
  36. The Cornish: They revolted in 1497, now they're at it again. The Independent. 6 September 2009
  37. "Cornwall Council – 2011 Census: Cornish identity". Cornwall.gov.uk. Retrieved 2012-09-29.
  38. "Stephen Gilbert MP calls for 'Cornish' Census answers". BBC News. 7 March 2011.
  39. "BBC News – Humanist religious question census campaign launched". 2011-03-04. Retrieved 2011-07-26.
  40. 1 2
  41. 1 2
  42. 1 2 3
  43. 1 2 3 4
  44. 1 2 3
  45. 1 2
  46. 1 2
  47. 1 2 3 4
  48. Briggs, Billy (6 March 2011). "Public urged to boycott census over contractor's alleged torture link". The Observer. London. Retrieved 6 March 2011.
  49. Help Shape Scotland's Future www.scotlandscensus.gov.uk, accessed 27 May 2010
  50. 2011 Census Prospectus "Office for national Statistics" Accessed 12 July 2012
  51. 2011 Census Prospectus for Northern Ireland "Northern Ireland Statistics and Research Agency" Accessed 16 July 2012
  52. 2011 Census Prospectus "General Registrar Office for Scotland" Accessed 16 July 2012
  53. 1 2 ONS Census Prospectus 30 September 2013, Retrieved 30 August 2013
  54. 2011 Census: Population Estimates for the United Kingdom, March 2013. Published 17 December 2012, Retrieved 3 June 2013
  55. Population and Household Estimates for the United Kingdom, March 2011. Published 21 March 2013, Retrieved 21 March 2013
  56. 2011 Census, Population Estimates by single year of age and sex for Local Authorities in the United Kingdom Published 31 July 2013, Retrieved 31 July 2013
  57. NISRA Census Prospectus August 2013, Retrieved 30 August 2013
  58. Scotland's Census Prospectus 30 August 2013, Retrieved 30 August 2013
  59. Scotlands Census Prospectus August 2013, Retrieved 30 August 2013

External links

England and Wales


Northern Ireland

Preceded by
UK Census
Succeeded by
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