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Privacy and data protection

The information you provide when you fill in your census questionnaire is protected by law.

Here we detail why we need your information. We also describe steps that we take to make sure your information is safe.

How and why we use your information

Every 10 years, the census gathers vital information that helps the government and local councils plan services like education, transport and health.

The Census Act (Northern Ireland) 1969 (opens in a new tab)  allows the Northern Ireland Statistics and Research Agency (NISRA) to run a census in Northern Ireland. The Census Order (Northern Ireland) 2020 and Census Regulations (Northern Ireland) 2020 provide details for Census 2021. The census is mandatory. It is an offence to supply false information or to not complete the census, and you could be fined. There is no penalty for not completing the questions on religion or sexual orientation.

We collect information from your questionnaire under our statutory objective to promote and safeguard the production of official statistics that serve the public good. This means that any personal data we collect will only ever be used to produce statistics or undertake statistical research. People will not be identified within those statistics or research.

The personal data you provide on your questionnaire will also be used to carry out research and produce statistics that serve the public good, both by NISRA and accredited researchers from other organisations.

We may occasionally record information about a property or an individual. We do this in the interests of safeguarding the wellbeing of both the people we visit to help complete their questionnaires and our field staff. We hold the minimum amount of personal data needed to meet these purposes.

We collect information about how people fill in their questionnaires online so we can improve the quality of our statistics.

If you provide feedback, we will not save your personal details or share them with anyone else. The feedback you give us will be used for research purposes only.

Who can access the information

During the census, we employ third-party providers (opens in a new tab)  to help us with parts of the Census operation. These third parties work under our instruction and are subject to the same legal penalties as NISRA staff involved in census.

Our supplier, Serco Group Plc, provided the contact centre for the public. They recorded calls to the contact centre so that together we could give a better customer service. At the end of the census, all recordings will be securely transferred to NISRA. These will be held for research purposes for as long as we need to carry out the census and then will be securely destroyed. Recordings may also be used for non-compliance proceedings.

All our third-party providers are located in the UK, and subject to UK data protection legislation. We keep the information we hold secure and confidential.

We may make de-identified data available to accredited researchers where there’s a clear public value and it’s safe and lawful to do so.

How long we keep your personal data

Data protection law requires that personal data are kept for no longer than is needed to fulfil the purposes for which they were originally collected.

We hold the least amount of personal data possible and have measures in place to delete personal data or make them anonymous, where appropriate.

Information held for statistical purposes only, such as information from your questionnaire, will be kept permanently. NISRA will keep the responses for transfer to the Public Record Office of Northern Ireland (PRONI). We hold and control this data securely prior to secure transfer to PRONI. Safeguarding data, such as information about a property or an individual, will be held for the duration of the census.

We hold metrics containing information about how people fill in their questionnaires in a form where they can be identified only until the necessary statistical matching has taken place. We then make it anonymous and use it to improve our services.

How the law protects your information

UK Data Protection legislation determines how, when and why any organisation can process your personal data. Personal data are any information that can identify a living individual. These laws exist to make sure your data are managed safely and used responsibly. They also give you certain rights about your data and create a responsibility on NISRA, as a user of personal data, to provide you with certain information.

The Census Act (Northern Ireland) 1969 (opens in a new tab)  ensures that we treat personal data from the census securely. It’s a criminal offence for NISRA staff or our suppliers to misuse personal census data. NISRA’s mission is to provide citizens and decision makers with trusted statistics and research on life in Northern Ireland. All our collection and use of census data comes from powers that can be found in the Census Act.

Legal basis for processing your data

Data protection legislation requires that all processing of personal data is undertaken under one or more conditions.

We process information from your census questionnaire under the following conditions:

  • processing is necessary for the performance of a task carried out in the public interest or in the exercise of official authority vested in the controller
  • processing is necessary for compliance with a legal obligation to which the controller is subject

We process information about a property or an individual and information about how people fill in their questionnaires under the following condition:

  • processing is necessary for the performance of a task carried out in the public interest or in the exercise of official authority vested in the controller

Under data protection legislation, an additional condition is needed to process special category personal data. These data include information about your racial or ethnic origin, religious or philosophical beliefs and sexual orientation. We process information from your questionnaire under the following two conditions:

  • processing is necessary for archiving in the public interest, scientific or historical research purposes or statistical purposes based on UK law
  • processing is necessary for reasons of substantial public interest

Your rights

As a data subject (someone whose personal data we hold), you have rights available to you under data protection law, such as the right of access and the right of rectification. If you wish to exercise any of these rights, please contact our data protection officer. However, please be aware that we may not be required to comply if the data are being held for statistical purposes only.

You can get further information on the rights available to you and the circumstances under which you can exercise them from the Information Commissioner’s Office (opens in a new tab) .

How to contact the data protection officer

Contact the DoF Data Protection Officer if you have any queries or concerns regarding our use of your data or wish to exercise any of your rights:

Email: (opens in a new tab) 

Colby House
Stranmillis Court

The Information Commissioner’s Office

The Information Commissioner’s Office (ICO) can give you extra information about data protection (opens in a new tab)  and your rights, and will deal with any complaints you may have about our use of your information. You can contact the ICO by:

Email: (opens in a new tab) 

Telephone: 0303 123 1113

Information Commissioner’s Office
Wycliffe House
Water Lane

The data controller

NISRA is an Agency within the Department of Finance (DoF). DoF is the Data Controller.

Department of Finance
Clare House
303 Airport Road