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What is the Office for National Statistics (ONS) ?
ONS is the executive office of the UK Statistics Authority; a non-ministerial department which reports directly to Parliament.
It is the UK's single largest producers of official statistics and also conducts the ten-yearly population census for England and Wales.
How many business surveys does ONS conduct?
ONS conducts around 80 surveys of business and local authorities in the UK, issuing around 1.7 million questionnaires to about 290,000 businesses out of a total of around 2 million.
It also conducts a number of other business surveys in conjunction with other government departments such as the Department of Business Innovation and Skills (BIS).
Who uses the data produced?
The information is used by the Government, the Treasury, financial institutions and other external forecasters, it informs policy-making decisions, helps to monitor the economy and is a primary measure of inflation.
It is also used by businesses, universities, the media and the general public to monitor the government's performance and gain a better understanding of the UK economy.
What are the benefits of statistics?
Statistics play a major role in monitoring the UK economy and setting interest rates. From a business perspective they provide a vital source of information for identifying trends in the market, as a benchmark for company performance and as a guide to market developments.
How was my business selected?
Businesses are selected from the ONS' Inter Departmental Business Register (IDBR), which is a comprehensive list of all businesses in the UK registered for VAT or PAYE.
Selection depends on several factors, e.g. the number of people employed, how many other businesses are operating in the same industry and the size of those businesses. Generally, large businesses will always be included in a survey sample because the information they provide can be quite significant. We select a number of medium and smaller businesses (usually on a rotational basis) because they perform differently, giving more balance and integrity to our results.
What does ONS consider to be a large or small business?
As a general rule:
Large businesses - 100 employment or more
Medium businesses - 11 - 99 employment
Small businesses - fewer than 10 employment
What is the difference between employment and employees?
Employment is the number of employees & working proprietors.
Employees are the number of people employed by the business.
My business employs fewer than ten people - will I get selected?
Yes. Trading patterns in micro businesses can vary greatly from large businesses . Collecting their data means we achieve comprehensive and meaningful statistics which are representative of an industry.
How many businesses are in each survey sample?
This varies from survey to survey. ONS sets the size of each survey sample at the minimum level needed to produce representative and accurate results for the Government and other users.
How long will I have to complete the survey?
ONS cannot give a definitive period of selection for any of its business surveys as this depends on a number of factors:
the number of businesses available in each size-band
changes to employment levels within individual businesses
how many cease to trade and how many new businesses are generated
Some indications about selection periods for individual surveys can be found in the A-Z of ONS business surveys
Why has my business been selected for more than one survey?
ONS business surveys are conducted independently of each other, therefore it is possible for a business to be selected for more than one survey at a time.
Is ONS's selection process fair?
Yes. ONS sampling procedures are based on the principle that over time, firms of a similar size, and within the same industry, have the same probability of being selected.
What is the difference between 'survey' and 'questionnaire'?
For ONS purposes:
Survey is a method used to collect information from a sample of individuals/businesses
Questionnaire is the research instrument/document which gathers information.
Why is my data important?
Your information contributes greatly to results reflecting how businesses are affected by the UK economy. This is your opportunity to say exactly how your business is operating in this current economic climate.
Will my data be kept confidential?
Yes. ONS is bound by the strict confidentiality provisions of the Statistics and Registration Services Act 2007, and by our own Code of Practice. Unauthorised disclosure of data would be disciplinary and in many cases a criminal offence.
What about the Data Protection Act?
Although the Data Protection Act (DPA) protects the rights of individuals by ensuring that their personal information is not compromised in any way, it recognises that the sharing of personal information is often desirable, or necessary, and sets out the conditions under which this can happen.
Why can't you get the data you need from my VAT returns?
We have examined the possibility of obtaining data from administrative sources, such as Companies House and HM Revenue and Customs (HMRC), but information supplied to these departments is neither timely, nor detailed enough, to readily substitute for ONS business surveys which have to produce high quality results very quickly.
At present existing legislation also prevents government departments from sharing certain information. However, as part of its modernisation programme, ONS is continuing to explore the possibility of using administrative data to minimise the respondent load.
What if I don't have any data to report?
Genuine zero returns are as valid as any other figure as we are measuring business trends.
My business is in administration/receivership - do I still need to complete the questionnaire?
Yes because businesses in administration/receivership can still trade. If you are unable to supply the information please inform us of the name and address of the Receiver.
We are a local authority - should we be receiving these surveys?
Yes. Under Section 17 of the Statistics of Trade Act 1947, a local authority is classed as a legal undertaking which means it is required to complete ONS business survey questionnaires.
We are a charitable organisation/church - should we be receiving these surveys?
Yes. Under Section 17 of the Statistics of Trade Act 1947, a charitable organisation/church is classed as a legal undertaking which means it is required to complete ONS business survey questionnaires.
Can I send my data in via e-mail?
No. ONS policy is to maintain the confidentiality of all data and we do not see it as a secure form of communication. At present, using e-mail runs the risk of exposing a businesses data as there is a possibility of interception by third parties. However, we are considering other 'data collection' methods, for example Secure Electronic File Transfer (SEFT).
Why have I received a reminder when I have already returned questionnaire/data?
Reminders are created automatically at a certain point in the survey round (usually the day after the return by date). If a business returns a questionnaire very near to the return by date it means that the reminder and completed questionnaire can 'cross in the post'.
Using automated reminders is the most efficient way for ONS to chase a response given the number of business surveys we currently process.
Why are the return dates so early?
For some surveys the turnaround for producing certain results is very demanding as they give an early indication of what is happening in the economy.
Why does ONS still expect business to provide data during the current economic climate?
It is essential now more than ever that we get as much data as possible to ensure the Treasury and the Bank of England have the necessary information to recognise how measures being introduced are working. e.g. revising interest rates, lending etc.
How often is a business survey reviewed?
In order to meet the Prime Minister's Instructions ONS business surveys are reviewed;
every three years for monthly and quarterly surveys
every five years for the annual surveys.
What authority does ONS have to conduct its business surveys?
ONS business surveys are conducted under Section 1 of the Statistics of Trade Act 1947.
Can I be exempt from completing the survey questionnaire?
No. Once selected a business is legally obliged to complete the survey because it is conducted under the provisions of the Statistics of Trade Act 1947.
Is there an appeal process?
No there is no appeal process.
What will happen if I do not complete the questionnaire?
Failure to comply could lead to prosecution at a Magistrates Court with a fine up to a maximum of £2,500 (last up dated by section 17 of the Criminal Justice Act 1991). You will still need to complete the questionnaire.
Will I get paid for completing an ONS business survey?
No. ONS is unable to offer payment for completing our questionnaires as it is a legal obligation and not a service.
Will I be fined if I return my questionnaire late?
No but we encourage businesses to return data as soon as possible to ensure the results we produce are accurate.
Can I provide estimates?
Yes. We do not expect that businesses go to any great expense or spend an inordinate amount of time obtaining the information required, especially for the short-term surveys. Estimates are sufficient for our needs since we are measuring changes in the economy using aggregated data from the information received from all businesses within that survey sample.
What will happen if I provide false information?
Ultimately, ONS must rely on the integrity of its respondents to supply reliable information but to knowingly provide false information [or to provide it recklessly] is an offence under the Section 4 (3) of the Statistics of Trade Act 1947 which can result in legal action. On conviction, penalties incurred can vary from a maximum of £4,000 and /or 3 months imprisonment, to an unlimited fine and 2 years imprisonment.
How will you know whether the information I provide is false?
For most of our surveys we have various validation checks built into the processing systems which identify any “atypical” values entered in response to a particular question. We then query such anomalies with respondents and they are either corrected, or we make a note to explain why the anomaly has arisen.
What is ONS doing to reduce the impact of its surveys on businesses?
ONS is committed to reducing the impact through a number of initiatives;
investigating data sharing with other government departments in order to scale back survey activity
recognising the impact on small businesses through a guarantee that for almost all ONS surveys, businesses with less than ten employment who respond to one survey for a set period of time, will then be granted a three year survey-free holiday
consulting with the organisations that represent small businesses through the National Statistics Small Business Forum which provides the opportunity for business representatives to discuss issues of concern regarding ONS
regularly reviewing all surveys to ensure that they are still required and if so, that the demand they place on respondents is kept to the minimum necessary to maintain the quality of its outputs.
How can I get a duplicate copy of the questionnaire?
If you have misplaced your questionnaire you can contact Respondent Relations on the number below which corresponds with the survey questionnaire you require.
|Access to Finance|
|Annual Business Survey||0300 1234 937|
|Annual PRODCOM Survey PRODucts of the European COMmunity||0300 1231 216|
|Annual Survey of Hours and Earnings||0300 1234 938|
|Annual Survey of International Trade in Services||0300 1234 942|
|Business Register Survey||0300 1234 922|
|Business Register and Employment Survey||0300 1234 944|
|E-Commerce Survey||0300 1234 932|
|Monthly Business Survey - Construction||0300 1234 910|
|Monthly Business Survey||0300 1234 914|
|Monthly Business Survey - Retail Sales Index||0300 1234 912|
|Monthly Wages and Salaries Survey||0300 1234 926|
|Pension fund Surveys (Quarterly and Annual)||0300 1231 217|
|Producer Price Surveys||0300 1234 925|
|Quarterly Business Survey - Construction||0300 1234 911|
|Quarterly Business Survey||0300 1234 917|
|Quarterly Dividends Survey||0300 1234 933|
|Quarterly Inquiry for Services Producer Price Indices||0300 1234 928|
|Quarterly Operating Profits Survey||0300 1234 934|
|Quarterly Public Sector Employees Survey||0300 1234 918|
|Quarterly Stocks Inquiry||0300 1234 915|
|Quarterly Survey of Financial Assets and Liabilities||0300 1234 935|
|Quarterly Survey of International Trade in Services||0300 1234 930|
|Quarterly Survey of Capital Expenditure||0300 1234 916|
|Quarterly Welsh Business Survey||0300 1234 921|
|Survey of Research and Development Carried out in the United Kingdom||0300 1234 940|
|Survey into Business Spending on Capital Items||0300 1234 941|
|Vacancy Survey ( Monthly/Quarterly)||0300 1234 920|
How do I change the contact within my business ?
You can provide the new details in one of the following ways;
in the red box on the front of your survey questionnaire which you will find alongside the current address details
via Telephone Data Entry (if this option is available on the survey)
telephone our Respondent Relations Team using the telephone number which appears on the front of your survey questionnaire
What if I wish to make a complaint?
Please write to:
Respondent Feedback Team
Office for National Statistics
What if I need further help and information?
If you need help with a particular business survey, please call our Respondent Relations Team who will be pleased to help. You will find the contact number on the front of your questionnaire.
If you require assistance in navigating the websites or need assistance in finding a particular publication, please contact our Customer Contact Centre on 0845 601 3034 (email: firstname.lastname@example.org).
Alternatively you can provide feedback by contacting the Respondent Feedback Team.
Where can I see results from ONS business surveys?
The outputs from our business surveys can be viewed free of charge either through;
our publications pages or
via the A - Z of business surveys on the ONS web page where you can also find out more information about each survey.
Where can I see the Statistics of Trade Act 1947?
A copy of the Statistics of Trade Act 1947 is available from the UK legislation website
Where can I find out more about ONS ?
Information about ONS can be viewed on our About ONS pages.