1. Executive summary

In December 2018, the government presented to Parliament a White Paper, Help Shape our Future: The 2021 Census of Population and Housing in England and Wales (PDF, 967KB). This outlined the Office for National Statistics's (ONS's) proposal to collect information on communal establishments (CEs) to meet the needs for comprehensive information about communal accommodation and an authoritative estimate of the population living in these establishments.

The questions used to collect data on CEs are:

  • type of accommodation respondent is resident at (individual questionnaire)

  • position in establishment (individual questionnaire)

  • nature of the establishment (CE questionnaire)

  • management of the establishment (CE questionnaire)

  • type and number of residents (CE questionnaire)

  • type and number of visitors on census night (CE questionnaire)

We collect CEs data in a way that is consistent with previous censuses and optimised for online data collection. CEs data are collected through the CE manager questionnaire and the first section of the individual questionnaire. Census 2021 will be an online-first census, including for CEs, with an overall target of 100% online CE manager questionnaire returns and paper questionnaires with exceptional circumstances. We have reviewed and tested each question online and have recommended additional design and functionality amendments specific to the electronic questionnaire. Following our stakeholder engagement, evaluation and testing programmes we have also recommended additional changes to the CE and individual questionnaire question designs. These changes will be detailed in this article.

To provide greater clarity over who should be included and complete an individual questionnaire, we have added "staying temporarily" to the paper questionnaire. This information in the 2011 Census was found in the manager's accompanying leaflet. For Census 2021, "staying temporarily" is added to the bullet point, "those living in a communal establishment who do not have another usual UK address", in the "Who should complete this questionnaire?" guidance information on page two of the paper questionnaire. We have also added the response option, "staying temporarily (no usual UK address)", to the position in the establishment question for online and paper questionnaires.

We have improved the 2011 Census questions on nature and management of CEs for Census 2021, by:

  • using a two-stage design for the online version of the nature of establishment question

  • adding additional information, "including inns and pubs", to the response option, "Hotel, guest house, B&B, youth hostel", to the second stage of the nature of the establishment question for travel or temporary accommodation

  • re-ordering the response options for the second stage nature of the establishment question for medical or care establishments, so that the establishments most likely to have usual residents are listed first

  • adding a "higher or further education institution" response option to the management of the establishment question

  • added response option to collecting information on sheltered accommodation

We have altered how we collect data for the number of residents and visitors at the establishment. Rather than asking about numbers of questionnaires distributed, we are asking the CE manager directly through a series of four questions:

  • Do any of the following currently live in this establishment?

  • How many people are currently living in this establishment?

  • Are any of the following visitors staying overnight in this establishment on 21 March 2021?

  • How many visitors are staying overnight in this establishment on 21 March 2021?

We have removed the 2011 Census "age groups" and "groups catered for" questions as there was insufficient user need demonstrated to justify their continued inclusion for Census 2021. Information on age groups can be derived from information collected from residents' individual questionnaires.

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2. Aim of question development report

Since the publication of the White Paper, the Office for National Statistics (ONS) has conducted and concluded the final phase of testing on communal establishments (CEs).

This article provides links to previously published research and the findings of testing that led to the final recommended questions for Census 2021 in England and Wales. The questions and response options for Census 2021 have now been finalised through the census secondary legislation: the Census (England and Wales) Order 2020 as well as Census Regulations for England and for Wales.

Additional information on the overall design of the Census 2021 questionnaire can be found in the Question and questionnaire development overview for Census 2021. Details of all our research and testing can be found in the Summary of testing for Census 2021.

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3. Research and development timeline

We carried out a survey in April 2018 that aimed to identify how communal establishments (CEs) data are used, understand why the data are needed, request information on any new data that are required and ask for opinions on proposed changes in the definitions relating to CEs. The survey received responses from central government and local authorities.

Recommendations following the survey included:

  • keeping the bed space definition for guest houses, B&Bs, and inns and pubs

  • counting sheltered housing units as households

  • enumerating armed forces personnel on ships inside and outside of UK waters in the same way

  • introducing a new definition to define and count serviced apartments as households for Census 2021

  • counting school boarders who stay at their school address three nights or fewer per week as usual residents at their home address (rather than at school)

These recommendations have been agreed and incorporated into the definitions for Census 2021. These are discussed in Output and enumeration bases: residential address and population definitions for Census 2021.

The survey did not identify any substantive requests for new information to be collected on the CE questionnaire or about usual residents of CEs. It showed a user need for data on type of establishment and management as well as residents' position in establishments. Although there were some requests for new data, these were not supported with strong evidence for why they would be needed and how they would be used. The results informed further testing, which contributed to the development of the final CEs form for Census 2021.

Following this, we began a programme of research and development. We provide a full list of the tests used in the development of the CE questionnaire in Annex 1: Summary of research undertaken for communal establishments, 2017 to 2019. Further details are provided in the Summary of testing for Census 2021.

The tests utilised a range of qualitative and quantitative research methods. A short description of the different research methods and sampling techniques is given in the Question and questionnaire development overview for Census 2021. Testing included respondents managing a varied range of CEs.

The question recommendations for Census 2021 are now finalised. We have evaluated the questions for their potential impact on data quality, public acceptability, respondent burden, financial concerns and questionnaire mode. We found the potential for impact to be "Low" for each criterion for all questions within the CE questionnaire as well as for the two questions within the individual questionnaire.

Ongoing work around this topic will focus on understanding and meeting user requirements for outputs.

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7. Annex 1: Summary of research undertaken for communal establishments, 2017 to 2019

References to tests take the form (Year: Test number). "Year" refers to the calendar year the test was undertaken in and the test number is the position of the test within the year considering all testing that took place in that year. For example, the fifth test conducted in 2017 would be referenced as (2017:5).

A full description of each of these items can be found in Summary of testing for Census 2021.

The individual questionnaire was also tested in user experience (UX). UX testing focuses on understanding user behaviours as people interact with online services. Through observation techniques, task analysis and other feedback methodologies, it aims to develop a deep knowledge of these interactions and what it means for the design of a service. The individual questionnaire UX testing did not focus on question design but on field procedures, and any spontaneous feedback from testing has also been considered throughout the questionnaire design process.

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