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Survey confidentiality: Daily Telegraph, 10 August 2006

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Daily Telegraph, 10 August 2006

A reader's letter in the Daily Telegraph claimed that an ONS interviewer had tried to get him to divulge his National Insurance number so that his survey responses could be passed on to other government departments. The National Statistician wrote to point out that the purpose of this exercise was for ONS to obtain accurate data from other sources, not to pass it on.


Issue date: 10 August 2006
Type: Letter to the Press

Sir

A letter to the editor (Intrusive Survey, August 10) gives the mistaken impression that the Office for National Statistics shares confidential information about households with other government departments.

The survey referred to is the Household Assets Survey. This is a new survey which will fill an important gap in the evidence base. It will show what types and amounts of savings, property and other assets and debts different kinds of families have. This goes beyond existing surveys which collect information about income. It will play a vital role in informing government policy on a range of issues, including pension provision and the take up of tax credits.

Our interviewers ask respondents if they will consent to ONS using data held by HM Revenue and Customs (HMRC) and the Department for Work and Pensions (DWP). To do this we ask for their National Insurance number, name, sex, date of birth and address. This enables DWP and HMRC to identify the information we need. This will complete the picture of a household’s assets by accessing information they may not have to hand, such as their current state pension entitlement.

Survey information is not passed to other departments as part of this process. The subsequent linked datasets are never used for purposes other than statistics and are never released to anyone in a form where an individual or household could be identified.

ONS respects its duty of confidentiality to the thousands of people who take part in its surveys and I am grateful to all of them for their assistance.

Yours faithfully,

Karen Dunnell
National Statistician
Office for National Statistics
1 Drummond Gate
London
SW1V 2QQ

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