You asked

Please publish under Freedom of Information your policy and strategy for non-compliance with the 2021 Census.

We said

Thank you for your request.

Section 8 of the Census Act 1920 ( lays out the penalties for any person who refuses or neglects to comply with or acts in contravention of any of the provisions of this Act or any Order in Council or regulations made under this Act.

In December 2018, the Government published a White Paper ( laying out the UK Statistics Authority's proposals for the conduct and content of the 2021 Census.

Sections 4.83 to 4.87 describe: "Enforcing the legal requirement to complete a census questionnaire". These sections include: our decision to continue to adopt a clear policy of prosecuting non-responders who refuse to make a census return either online or on paper; that persons refusing to comply with the statutory requirement will be offered encouragement and assistance to do so, but if they continue to refuse, may be liable to legal proceeding; our plans to continue to use specially trained field staff to conduct formal interviews under caution as required by the Police and Criminal Evidence Act 1984 (PACE); and the use of the Crown Prosecution Service (CPS) to decide on, and undertake, prosecutions. The Office for National Statistics (ONS) plans to build on these successful (2011) arrangements in 2021.

S.35(1)(a) of the Freedom of Information Act (FOIA) 2000 states that, information held by a government department is exempt if the information relates to the formulation or development of government policy. We are still in the process of formulating our detailed strategy for non-compliance, and to release this would prejudice the integrity of policy making, particularlty in relation to live issues.

The use of s.35(1)(a) is subject to consideration of the public interest test. Arguments in favour of disclosure are accountability and transparency. Arguments in favour of withholding the information is maintaining a safe space for government officials to devise strategies away from external scrutiny and consider all policy options in private. The census is a once in a decade opportunity to measure the population and use findings to inform public policy. We are committed to being as open and transparent as possible regarding our decisions on the census; however, we would not do so if it were to cause detriment to the process. To release information regarding our enforcement procedures before the formulation of the strategy has been complete, or even signed off, would undermine the policy process and potentially undermine the undertaking of the census itself; neither of which would be in the public interest.