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The next Census - preparing for 2021

Background to the Census Transformation Programme, latest developments on the 2021 Census, and links to further information.

For over 200 years, every household in England and Wales has been required to respond to the census once every 10 years. As before, the 2011 Census provided a vast range of population statistics that will be used for the next decade across the public, private and voluntary sectors.

The population, both in terms of numbers of people and their characteristics, is changing rapidly at both a national and local level. The need for users of statistics to understand these changes will continue.

In April 2011, the Office for National Statistics' (ONS) Beyond 2011 consultation and research programme was set up to review these needs, and how they might best be met in future.  In reviewing these approaches, issues of cost, benefit, statistical quality and public acceptability were considered, together with the opportunities provided by improvements in technology and government data sources.

In autumn 2013, a public consultation on the future provision of population statistics in England and Wales considered two potential approaches for taking the census in future:

  • A census once a decade, like that conducted in 2011, but primarily online
  • A census using existing government data and compulsory annual surveys.

At the conclusion of the Beyond 2011 programme, ONS and the UK Statistics Authority recommended a predominantly online census in 2021 supplemented by further use of administrative and survey data; this recommendation was accepted by the UK Government in July 2014.

Census Transformation Programme

The Census Transformation Programme has been set up by ONS to make the best use of all available data in England and Wales to enhance the provision of population statistics.  Developing administrative-based statistics is a priority for ONS in both delivering the 2021 Census and enabling change after 2021. The Programme will be achieved through three major strands of activity.

1.  2021 Census operation: working towards an online census of all households and communal establishments in England and Wales in 2021. This will look at how the Census data collection operation and its coverage survey will be run (including the address register, field staff, online/paper data collection, publicity and engagement).  Once the data collection operation is concluded, a complex set of processes to convert responses into statistics begins.

2.  Integrated population statistics outputs: this strand represents ONS' research into whether administrative and survey data can be used to produce population and census statistics in the future. It will look at the integration of census, administrative and survey data sources and methods for producing and disseminating outputs, including inter-censal statistics about the size and characteristics of the population, households and families.

3.  Beyond 2021: this strand of the programme will decide how these statistics are provided after the 2021 Census, building on the methods and research in the second strand to assess the potential use of administrative and survey data to produce information currently provided by a census. By 2023 there will be a recommendation about the future nature of the census and methods for production of population statistics, and whether there is sufficient evidence to move away from the ten-yearly census approach.

Further information on the programme is available via the ONS web pages: 

Latest News and Consultations

Information about ONS Census Transformation Programme consultations (open and closed) is available hereOpens new window.

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