The 2021 Census for England and Wales is coming up - this is why it’s compulsory

The last UK census took place in 2011 (Getty Images)The last UK census took place in 2011 (Getty Images)
The last UK census took place in 2011 (Getty Images)

The Office for National Statistics is gearing up for a once-in-a-decade event.

The 2021 census will see all households in England and Wales surveyed on their lifestyle and living situation, offering a unique insight into the nation’s population and the society we live in.

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Past censuses help to provide a snapshot of the society that we once lived in, but the most recent census is used by local authorities and charities, to help better provide the services we all need, including transport, education and healthcare.

This year’s census has been complicated by the coronavirus and will primarily take place online.

Here’s what you need to know about the 2021 census which is just weeks away.

When is census day? 

The census will take place on Sunday, March 21, 2021.

This only applies to England and Wales. The census in Scotland has been pushed back to 2022 due to the Covid-19 pandemic.

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The date for a census in Northern Ireland is yet to be announced.

Is the census compulsory? 


The Census Act 1920 makes it compulsory for everyone in England and Wales to participate in the census.

How is the census carried out? 

The 2021 census will mark the first time that the census is conducted primarily online.

The ONS’ target is to have 75% of census returns completed online, with the remainder completed on traditional paper forms.

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Most households will receive a unique code in the post which will allow them to complete their census returns online.

What questions are asked? 

Census questions are modified at each census in order to reflect the needs of the time.

The 2021 census will be largely similar to the 2011 census with questions about age, ethnicity, religion,employment and relationships.

Three new questions have been included in the 2021 census – these are: Veteran status:, sexual orientation and gender identity.

When will the results of the census be known? 

The ONS aims to publish an initial set of census reports one year after it has taken place, and to make all outputs available within two years.