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 all the steps that we take to make sure your information and your privacy are safe.

How and why we use your information

The Census Act 1920 allows the Office for National Statistics (ONS) to run a census in England and Wales. The Census Order and Census Regulations 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. Some questions are clearly labelled as voluntary. It is not an offence if you do not answer these.

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.

Every 10 years, the census gathers vital information that helps the government and local authorities plan services like healthcare, roads and libraries.

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 the ONS 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 those being interviewed and interviewers, as well as to help people complete their questionnaires. We’ll hold the minimum amount of personal data needed to meet these purposes.

We’ll collect information about how people fill in their questionnaires online so we can improve our online services.

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’ll employ third-party providers to help us with parts of the operation. These third parties work under our instruction.

Our supplier, Serco Limited, will run the contact centre for the public. They’ll record calls to the contact centre and save web chat and web form transcripts so that they and we can give a better customer service. At the end of the census, all recordings and transcripts will be securely transferred to the ONS. These will be held for research purposes for as long as we need to carry out the research, then will be securely destroyed.

The ONS website has a full list of our suppliers.

We keep the information we hold secure and confidential. We may make data available to accredited researchers where there’s a clear public value and it’s safe and lawful to do so. The ONS website has information on how we allow access to data for research, and a list of approved researchers who we’ve granted access to.

How long are personal data kept?

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.

The law allows that information held for statistical purposes only, such as information from your questionnaire, may be kept for longer periods. The ONS will keep a data set of responses for the National Archives. We’ll hold and control this data securely for 100 years.

Data used by approved researchers will be held within our Secure Research Service. Any personal data that we do not need, such as names and addresses, will be removed from the data set at the earliest opportunity. We will regularly review the data and delete them when they are no longer needed.

Safeguarding data, such as information about a property or an individual, will be held for the duration of the census. Most of the information will be deleted at the end of the census period. In some instances, data will be held for longer, where keeping them continues to serve safeguarding purposes.

We’ll 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’ll then make it anonymous and use it to improve our services.

How the law protects your information

The General Data Protection Regulation and the Data Protection Act 2018 determine 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 the ONS, as a user of personal data, to provide you with certain information.

The ONS is a statutory body, meaning it was created by legislation, specifically the Statistics and Registration Service Act 2007. Our objective is to promote and safeguard the production and publication of official statistics that serve the public good. All our collection and use of data comes from powers that can be found in that Act or other UK legislation.

The Census Act 1920 ensures that we treat personal data from the census securely. It’s a criminal offence for ONS staff or our suppliers to misuse personal census data.

Legal basis for processing your data

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

We’ll 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’ll 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’ll 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

We’ll process special category data about a property or an individual under the following condition:

  • 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. 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, such as data from census questionnaires. Compliance requirements are set out in the Data Protection Act 2018.

You have the right to request access to the information held about you from any controller holding your personal data. You can ask them to amend any wrong or inaccurate information they hold about you. You have the right to object to your personal data being processed.

You have the right, in some circumstances, to ask for any controller to:

  • erase any personal data they may hold about you
  • stop processing your personal data
  • pass any information they hold about you to another controller

We may not be required to comply if the data are being held for statistical purposes only, such as data from census questionnaires.

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.

The data controller

The controller is the person or organisation that decides which personal data will be processed and for what purpose. For Census 2021, the ONS is the controller and makes those decisions.

You can contact us by:

Telephone: 01329 444972

Email: census.customerservices@ons.gov.uk

Post:
Census Customer Services
Office for National Statistics
Titchfield
Fareham
Hampshire
PO15 5RR

How to contact the data protection officer

Our data protection officer is the person charged with providing us with advice and guidance on the ways we can best protect the information we collect and use. They are involved in all the major decisions we make in relation to personal data. Contact the data protection officer if you have any queries or concerns regarding our use of your data or wish to exercise any of your rights.

You can contact the data protection officer by:

Telephone: 0845 601 3034

Email: DPO@statistics.gov.uk

Post:
Data Protection Officer
Office for National Statistics
Segensworth Road
Titchfield
Fareham
Hampshire
PO15 5RR

The Information Commissioner’s Office

The Information Commissioner’s Office (ICO) is the independent organisation tasked with regulating data protection in the UK. The ICO can give you extra information about data protection and your rights and will deal with any complaints you may have about our use of your information.

You can contact the ICO by:

Telephone: 0303 123 1113

Email: casework@ico.org.uk

Post:
Information Commissioner’s Office
Wycliffe House
Water Lane
Wilmslow
Cheshire
SK9 5AF