• The 1920 Census Acts provides for censuses to be taken, but each census requires secondary legislation comprising White Paper, Census Order and Census regulations.

  • The questions on the 2011 Census in England and Wales were researched, tested and rehearsed to make sure the resulting data would be high quality.

  • The Office for National Statistics (ONS) conducted several tests to inform the design for the 2011 Census.

  • Independent assessments reassure 2011 Census users of the thorough development of methods and the quality of the resulting census statistics.

  • The approach, or design, chosen for the 2011 Census drew on experiences from the 2001 Census, contemporary world best practice and changes in available technology.

ONS carries out the census in England and Wales as part of its role to improve understanding of life in the UK and enable informed decisions through trusted, relevant and independent statistics and analysis. The latest census for England and Wales was taken on 27 March 2011.


Northern Ireland and Scotland also took their censuses on the same day, to enable the production of harmonised outputs for the whole of the UK from 2012. Each country is autonomous, with the final decision lying with the relevant Registrar General, ministers and legislature. Subject to that autonomy, the National Statistician and Registrars General agreed that the three Census Offices would work in unison to ensure that the 2011 Censuses were a success in providing high quality population and housing statistics, meeting the needs of data users and reflecting European requirements.

Under new regulations, census outputs from member states will be harmonised to produce a consistent picture of the population across the European Union.

Commitment to quality

A successful census must be founded on sound quality principles. The 2011 Census Quality Strategy, published in 2006, outlined the commitment to quality in the management and delivery of the census and provided a framework for developing and implementing the many processes involved. Download the strategy (84 Kb Pdf).

Questionnaire distribution and return

The 2011 Census for England and Wales was the first to post out all household questionnaires based on a specially developed national address register. It was also the first to offer people a choice to either complete online or fill in and post back a paper questionnaire. Completed questionnaires from people living in communal establishments were collected by special enumerators. Everyone in the country was legally obliged to complete a census questionnaire. Those who did not risked a fine of up to £1,000.

Topics covered by questions

The household questionnaire asked about household accommodation, relationship, demographic characteristics (such as sex, age and marital status), migration, cultural characteristics, health and provision of care, qualifications, employment, workplace and journey to work. Households in Wales received both an English and Welsh questionnaire, each containing an extra question on the Welsh language.


A national publicity campaign helped raise awareness of the census and its importance, which included direct engagement with local authorities and communities representing minority ethnic groups and people with disabilities.

Tracking questionnaires

All questionnaires (online or on paper) were tracked and processed at the secure Manchester processing centre. Non-returning households were identified by the tracking system for targeted follow-up by census collectors.

Related downloads

National Statistician and Registrars General's agreement - August 2012

National Statistician and Registrars General's agreement - September 2011

National Statistician and Registrars General's agreement - update on progress February 2011

National Statistician and Registrars General's agreement - update on progress August 2008

2011 Census Quality Strategy – April 2006