News and reports

4 March 2020, Census 2021 question development reports

The ONS is publishing a series of Census 2021 question development reports. These provide a detailed explanation of the research, testing and evaluation we have carried out to arrive at our question designs for Census 2021.

These report explain our approach to question development, the design process of the online and paper census questionnaires, how we ordered the census questions, the criteria we used to evaluate the final question designs, and our next steps as we prepare for Census 2021. The first of these reports are:

11 September 2019, Guidance for questions on Sex, Gender Identity and Sexual Orientation for the 2019 Census Rehearsal for the 2021 Census

We’ve published a report presenting the Guidance for questions on sex, gender identity and sexual orientation for the 2019 Census Rehearsal for the 2021 Census, which includes a summary of the research that has informed the drafting of this guidance

14 December 2018, 2021 Census topic research update

We've published an update on our research and testing of questions and topics for the 2021 Census.

12 July 2018 to 3 August 2018, data users’ survey on “long-term health problem or disability”: question for the 2021 Census in England and Wales

We invited those who use England and Wales census data on “long-term health problem or disability” in their work, or intend to in the future, to fill in an online survey. We conducted this survey to help inform our decision on which question design would best meet data user needs in the 2021 Census in England and Wales.

We’re considering whether to use the same question as we used for the 2011 Census or whether it would be beneficial to data users to change to a question based on the Government Statistical Service’s harmonised principle on classification of disability in terms of the Equality Act 2010. This harmonised principle is designed to measure the core population of currently disabled people for the Equality Act 2010. It was not developed in time for the 2011 Census.

Moving to this question in the 2021 Census would mean a loss of continuity with the data previously collected in the census. We’re conducting engagement and testing to inform our decision, including this short survey, which was designed for data users of this information.

The survey ran from Thursday 12 July 2018 to Friday 3 August 2018.

June 2018, census questions research

BMG Research, an independent research agency, conducted a large-scale survey on behalf of the Office for National Statistics (ONS). This was to inform the development of potential questions for the 2021 Census questionnaire.

A total of 30,000 households were randomly selected to take part in the survey. The households asked to take part were able to respond between 18 June 2018 and 6 August 2018.

If you have any questions about this research, please contact BMG Research by email at or by phone on +44 (0)121 260 1013.

13 December 2017, 2021 Census topic research report

This report provides an update of our research and testing on questions and topics for the 2021 Census.

July 2017, 2021 Census Roadshow slides

In July 2017, we updated users on our progress towards designing the 2021 Census questionnaire with a series of roadshow events in Birmingham, Cardiff, London and Newcastle. For an up-to-date view, see the 2021 Census topic research report.

The opening slides from the roadshow sessions include information on the agenda and background.

Our topic slides provide information as presented at the roadshows on:

The closing slides from the roadshow sessions are also available and include information on next steps.

Our current assessment slides provide information on our assessment of census topics as presented at the roadshows.

We also produced a number of posters from the census roadshows, giving updates on:

27 June 2017, Question testing

We tested questions relating to the Equality Act 2010. Households were randomly selected to take part in the survey using the address register. The fieldwork took place between 26 June 2017 and 11 August 2017.

Ipsos MORI, an independent research agency, was contracted to undertake the research on our behalf.

3 March 2017, BMG Research survey in Wolverhampton and Hounslow on behalf of the ONS

As part of the research looking at alternative question designs for the 2021 Census questionnaire, we commissioned BMG Research, an independent research agency, to conduct research in Wolverhampton and Hounslow. The survey took place between February and April 2017.

23 May 2016, The 2021 Census – Assessment of initial user requirements on content for England and Wales: Response to consultation (PDF, 796KB)

This report presents our full response to the consultation, updating our initial view on 2021 Census content for England and Wales.

The report provides an overview of the evaluation process we used to assess the responses, and it summarises the results of the evaluation. It sets out our updated view on the topics to be included in the 2021 Census, including a summary of proposals for new topics, next steps and an overview of our plans.


In 2015, we had the biggest-ever public consultation response to topics that should be included in the 2021 Census. Most of the topics being considered for inclusion were decided by evaluating responses to this consultation. We’re still considering how, or whether, to meet user needs for information on some topics, for example, the proposed new topics of sexual orientation and gender identity.

Further question development work is being carried out before our recommendations inform a government White Paper in 2018.