Census 2021

There has been an expensive marketing campaign around Census 2021 and you have probably received the notification through your door. We look at the implications for your personal data and how it is used by the government.

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What is it?

The Census started in 1801 and is run every 10 years. It provides a snapshot of the people and households of the UK on a particular day (21 March 2021). It is used to forecast the taxation needed to fund public services including healthcare, education and transport.

It is mandatory that you complete one, and there is a £1,000 fine for those who don’t provide their household data – or provide false information.  The General Data Protection Regulation (GDPR) and Data Protection Act 2018 determine how, when, and why any organisation (including the UK government) can process your personal information.

Who runs it ?

The Office for National Statistics (ONS) is the data controller. It was created to promote and safeguard the production and publication of statistics to serve the public good.  The Census Act 1920 ensures that all personal data is treated securely, and it is a criminal offence for ONS staff, or suppliers, to misuse or misappropriate that data.

The Data Protection Officer (DPO) is the person taking charge of providing us with advice and guidance on the ways in which ONS can best protect the information it collects and how it is used.

We contacted the current DPO Mark Cottam and asked him “How safe is our personal census data?”.  This was his response:

“Personal information you provide in the Census is kept completely confidential and is protected by law. Personal information is any information that could allow you to be identified, for example your name, address, or date of birth. We do not share this with anyone. Your census record is kept secure for 100 years and only then is it made public and can be seen by future generations.

Everyone working on the census (including all suppliers) are subject to strict confidentiality provisions and it is a crime for them to unlawfully share personal census information.  The personal information you put on your census is only used for statistical purposes. Statistics produced by ONS will never contain any information that will allow you or anyone you live with to be identified.  Hopefully, this answers your concerns, but please do not hesitate to get back in touch if you have any further queries”.

You can ask your own questions at DPO@statistics.gov.uk

You can get additional information on your personal data rights from the Information Commissioner’s Office (ICO) by emailing casework@ico.org.uk

The Census itself

When you completed the Census you would have seen that some questions were voluntary and clearly labelled that way.  Information is collected within the remit of the statutory objective to promote and safeguard the production of official statistics which serve the public good.  Any personal data which was collected would only ever be used to produce statistics or undertake statistical research. Individuals would not have been identified or be identifiable within those statistics or research.

The ONS may occasionally record information about a property or individual in the interests of safeguarding the wellbeing of interviewers and those being interviewed. This is done to help those who are unable to complete the questionnaire themselves. A minimal amount of personal data is used and needed to meet these purposes.  Information is collected about how you complete your form to help improve online services (mobile versus laptop for example).

If you provided feedback, personal details would not have been saved or shared with third parties. Again, it would have been used for research purposes only.

How information is assessed

During the Census, third party providers are used to assist in operational matters and work under strict guidelines. For example, Serco Ltd ran the contact centre for the public. They would have recorded all calls made to and from the centre, save web form transcripts and web chats for customer service improvements. The ONS want to be very open about this so feel free to ask questions at: census.customerservices@ons.gov.uk

All of the above will be securely transferred to the ONS at the end of the Census. This data is for research purposes and will be securely destroyed upon completion of that research. Additionally, some information may be made available to accredited researchers where there is a clear value to the public and where it is safe and lawful to do so.  The ONS provides a full list of their third party suppliers.

How long is my personal data kept?

ONS will keep a data set of responses for the National Archives, held and controlled for 100 years.  GDPR and the Data Protection Act 2018 stipulate that personal data is kept no longer than is required to fulfil the original purposes. (The National Archives serve a different purpose in maintaining a public record).

The least amount of personal data is held and made anonymous where appropriate with measures in place to delete this information securely.  Any personal data not needed will be removed from the afore-mentioned data set at the earliest opportunity, reviewed regularly and then deleted when no longer required.

Safeguarding data will be in place for the duration of the Census and deleted at the end of it. However, information can be held for longer for extended safeguarding purposes.

The Electoral Roll

Alongside the Census 2021 you may have recently received notification of the local elections being held on 6th May this year.   You now have ample opportunity to remove yourself from the Open Register part of the Electoral Roll, which will restrict the number of companies who can market to you, and thereby securing your personal information.  You can read more here.

Have your say

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