Census Scotland 2022: what is the deadline, typical questions, and is there a fine for not filling it out?

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The census takes place once every 10 years and those who fail to submit a response face penalties

The deadline for completing Scotland’s once in a decade census is approaching.

It gauges the demographics of the country and guides the future of public services, and had been extended by four weeks having originally been due to close at the end of last month after a low response rate.

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Now people are being urged to take the opportunity to submit their response before the deadline on Tuesday (31 May)

The National Records of Scotland revealed on Saturday that 86% of households have now returned the form - but those who fail to complete it could be hit with a hefty fine.

A sample of Scotland's Census letter.A sample of Scotland's Census letter.
A sample of Scotland's Census letter.

But how much could non-responders be fined - and why are fines imposed, and is it the same situation across the UK?

Here’s what you need to know.

What is the census?

The survey collects information which governments, both north and south of the border, use to make sure they provide the right services for people.

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Census day in Scotland was 20 March and the deadline prior to being extended was 1 May.

A census of the population has been taken every 10 years in Scotland since 1801, with the exception of 1941, because of World War Two and in 2021 due to the Covid-19 pandemic.

The census asks question about topics including the types of accommodation people stay in, household relationships, age, sex, health and employment status.

New questions in this year’s census are on the use of British Sign Language, passports held, sexual orientation and trans status.

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Why are fines imposed on those who don’t respond?

Under the law households must complete the census. Not doing so is a criminal offence and could lead to prosecution and a fine of up to £1,000.

Giving false information on the census would also lead to prosecution and a fine.

Those who don’t fill in the census will be contacted by a census officer to encourage them to complete it.

Any census questions on religion, sexual orientation and gender identity are voluntary, but completing the census is compulsory.

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The National Records of Scotland (NRS) is responsible for Scotland’s census.

The Scotland’s Census website states: “Scotland’s Census is underpinned by law.

“The Registrar General for Scotland takes a census in Scotland under the Census Act 1920. The Act allows for a census to be taken not less than 5 years after the previous census.”

Is the whole of the UK covered by census laws?

Yes all of the UK is covered by legislation - the Census Act 1920 and the Census Act (Northern Ireland) 1969, which makes it compulsory to complete the census. The legislation contains a number of offences relating to the census.

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In England and Wales these offences are investigated by the Office for National Statistics (ONS), the body responsible for the census there.

Census data is kept secure and confidential for 100 years.

It is against the law to disclose confidential census data, anyone who falls foul of this could face a fine or up to two years in jail.

The Scottish census website states: “Census responses will be published and made available to the public in the future. Currently, this is intended to be in 100 years but will be done in accordance with the laws of the time.”

Do other countries fine people for not submitting census returns?

Many countries around the world make completing their census a legal obligation.

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However, penalties differ. In the US people can be fined up to $100 (around £79) for refusing to complete the form - but answering questions falsely carries a steeper penalty of $500 (just under £400).

While in South Africa anyone refusing to participate could be fined 10,000 South African rand (around £500) or sentenced to six months in jail.

And in Canada anyone who refuses to fill out the census can face a fine of up to $500 (around £313).

What has been said?

The delayed deadline for the census has cost taxpayers £9.76 million, bringing the total bill for the survey to £148m.

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NRS chief executive Paul Lowe urged those who have still to complete it to do said: “It was great last week to cross the 85% response rate nationally – a major milestone in the census – and to see 25 local authorities exceeding their local target of 85%.

“I want to say a huge thank you to each and every household across the country who has done their bit.

“My message to those who have yet to complete is: don’t miss out. Don’t regret not taking part.

“Big decisions about our local communities and our nation as a whole are based on census data. Everyone’s circumstances need to be captured to ensure the best decisions are taken, so please complete now.”

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The original deadline for Scots to return the form was set for 1 May. After hundreds of thousands of homes had not returned the census, Constitution Secretary Angus Robertson told MSPs it would be delayed until the end of the month.

When he announced the new deadline, Mr Robertson suggested the Ukraine war and the pandemic could have affected the rate of return in Scotland, but stressed a high response was required to ensure the census is effective.

The census can be done online, more information on how to do it can be found at census.gov.scot or via the free helpline 0800 030 8308

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