Legal information


Count Me Out does not seek to encourage people to break the law in any way or boycott the census, but to raise awareness about the 2011 census and action that people are taking around it.

It is a criminal offence under the Census Act 1920 to not complete the census, to not complete any part of the census (other than the Religion question), or provide false information. Taking these actions would leave you liable to prosecution which could lead to a criminal record and a fine up to £1,000.

If you don’t fill in the form fully or accurately

The census is to determine information about every household in the UK. One questionnaire is sent out per household. If the central census office realises that you haven’t filled out the form fully or accurately, then they may try to chase it up. For the first time, the central census office — thanks to Lockheed Martin — will be electronically tracking which questionnaires are returned and which aren’t. This may result in a higher number of check-backs than in previous years.

To make it clear: boycotting the census entirely, only partially filling in the form, or filling in the form incorrectly all leave you liable to prosecution. You are legally obliged to accurately fill in the entire census form; the only question you can leave blank is the question on religion. If Census HQ notice that your form is inaccurate or incomplete, they may initiate legal action against you.

Follow-up procedure

If the government realises that your household has either

[a] not filled in the census form at all (more likely) or;
[b] not filled in the census form fully (less likely) or;
[c] not filled in the census form accurately (less likely)

then you may be visited by a census collector at some point between 27 March–6 May 2011. If you are in, they may try to give you another questionnaire, and ask why you haven’t filled it in. If you are out, they will leave a calling card and call back another time.

If you still have not complied by this point, they may just give up and drop it, or they may proceed to the next step: sending a Census Non-Compliance Officer to your house. They will be doing the rounds 26 April–12 August 2011.

Legal action: when will they do it

If at this point you still have not complied, they may consider legal action against you. The policy of the Office for National Statistics (ONS) in the past has been to only pursue cases which they think they can win. In their words, for the 2001 census:

“Any refusal to complete a form, encountered by field officers was reported to Census HQ and, if there was clear and sufficient documentary evidence of a refusal, and the refusal persisted, consideration was given to a prosecution. The Registrar General gave particular attention to those reported cases where refusals were accompanied by acts of intimidation towards field staff.”

Stats on refusal: 2001 census

According to the ONS, 4600 incidences of refusal were reported back to Census HQ, but with a lack of documentary evidence to support a prosecution. On top of that, 1500 incidents of refusal were reported fully, with 6% of that passed on to the Department of Work and Pensions (DWP) solicitors for consideration of legal action.

From there, 38 prosecutions were taken forward – that’s:

  • 0.00006% of the 58,789,194 people that were covered;
  • 0.6% of the 6100 that were reported for refusal to Census HQ;
  • 48% of the 80 that were issued court summonses by the DWP.

These 38 prosecutions resulted in:

  • Two cases of a conditional discharge with no costs;
  • One imprisonment for contempt of court for someone who refused to pay court fines;
  • Fines ranging from £35-£500 plus costs in most cases.

What to do in a household with people who want to boycott and complete the census

We have heard from some people that they want to openly boycott the census whilst their housemates do not. A lawyer has looked into this of his own accord, and we thought we would share it:

It is the householder who has the legal duty to return the questionnaire. A householder is the person who owns or rents the property and/or is wholly or partly responsible for paying household bills. This means that many people will have no legal obligation to return the form. There is only one form per household. If your flatmates do have a legal duty to return the form (and of course answer truthfully), then they will have complied with their duty if they put down all their own data and in relation to the householder that does not want to complete the form, they could put “anonymous” or words to that effect. They could also stipulate that the third householder refuses to take part in the Census given his/her moral and conscientious objections to it.


Office for National Statistics’ executive summary on non-compliance in 2001

Doorstep Security Guide — Census 2011 site.

What do they know? — Freedom of Information request into census non-compliance prosecutions.

21 Responses to Legal information

  1. Michelle says:

    Am I legally entitled to fill in this question on Nhs forms (even though they know who i am) and general other forms that have asked the same question. Are they legally entitled to refuse me medical care (ie nhs) if I do not respond and when taking exams can they refuse my paper because I have not filled this in?

    • countmeout says:

      Not sure what question you’re referring to, but it sounds out of our knowledge range. Sorry!

  2. Obnoxious pensioner says:

    I seem to have a different slant on this from all others, I am entitled to privacy the government has all my details for all there Stats,they they will sell this on to google for us all to be spammed out , I nominate my name must be private,why because my assailant who attacked robbed my has his name on name protected, And also The cash till robber who I testified on (never again , KEEP YOUR MOUTH SHUT on everything) did use electrorial reg,
    to throw bricks monthly at my car , A judge not see it that way he is a capitalist (all laws are made to protect themselves ) so read the Geneva convention 3 meals a day(wow no cooking) , 20deg heating(no gas bills) , association(no tv costs and no need to spend at pub for company), no loss of health , (they have a runner for tablets)
    no problem inside if u a loner
    little story . had questions to answer once lord muck had pheasant dead on road so in pot it went, but a stray pet rabbit in back garden no problem
    All for now

  3. Dantheman says:

    IBM carried out the census in Germany in 1933. The census information was put onto punch cards and read by IBM computers. The Nazis used the information to help in the subsequent genocide of the Jews. The tattooed numbers on the arms of those who ended up in concentration camps was an IBM number.

  4. Bloke says:

    We have told them we will not comply with terrorists. I was happy to blag, avoid or spoil the form. My better half is happy for it to go to court.

  5. Sejus says:

    I have just been visited by the 1st census visitor, I explained to him that becasue of my personal beliefs i cannot be part of anything that has a company involved whose sole goal is to become more efficient at killing more people year by year. That i conscientiously object.

    I am a vegetarian and have been since i was about 10 (by my own choice, my parents was and are both omnivores), this is a strong belief. What are my legal rights under these circumstances ? Surly they can’t force people to go against a belief system, be that a religious one or one that has such a large impact on who you are ?

    I also don’t shop at other companies whom i belive have a negative impact through the policies they use, this is not just a Lockheed thing.

  6. Johnny Dangerous says:

    I am not filling it in because it is NOBODY’S BUSINESS as to where I go, what I do, why I do it, etc.

    Anybody who has a problem with that most basic of assertions is more than welcome to make their case to my fist.

  7. Martin Lockheed says:

    As many as possible should inadvertantly enclose the wrong form such as a blank application form for Social Security benefits.

  8. stan says:

    I think this is a breach of the Human rights act Section (8) ?? right to privacy and family life.

    What do you think??

  9. george kilbride says:

    i am not filling out cencus form as i have mental health problems and i do not what it is all about stick it

  10. claire lamond says:

    The form I have says it is illegal not to fill it in but it doesn’t say it is illegal not to return it. I wondered about filling it in and posting it to myself (thus having a postal date stamped on it) then saying I am willing to hand it to the government but not CACI (I am in Scotland). Perhaps this might be an option that might perhaps safeguard those of us who don’t want to hand our data over to dodgy companies but are terrified of the thought of such a large fine?

    Of course nothing is garuanteed but I wondered about your thoughts on this?

  11. Civil Disobedience or lulz with the 2011 UK Census Form

    Here are some suggestions for civil disobedience or just traditional British bloody mindedness when faced by bureaucratic red tape, or pranksterish lulz , short of an outright refusal to comply with filling in the Census Form and returning it, under the threat of a criminal record and a fine of up to £1000.

    Whether the extra manual work which these suggestions may cause has already been budgeted for, or whether it will marginally decrease the profits of Lockheed Martin, remains to be seen:

    Census Form suggestions:

    1. “Accidentally” cut off the individual page tracking barcodes
    2. Do not use blue or black ink
    3. Use “The Occupier” or other pseudonyms
    4. SQL Injection statements
    5. Return the Census Form in a non-windowed envelope
    6. Send some or all of your junk mail to ONS via FREEPOST
    7. Individual Census Forms
    8. Terrorism Act 2000 section 58A Eliciting, publishing or communicating information about members of armed forces etc
    9. Partial Post Codes
    10. Data Protection Act 1998 section 10 Right to prevent processing likely to cause damage or distress.
    11. Tick all of the checkboxes
    12. Do Not Sign the Census Form
    13. Assert your own Copyright – All Rights Reserved, to your own Personal Information

  12. Kevin says:

    What’s the position on drawing pretty graphic pictures of the damage warfare does to people with the arms that they make.

  13. Phill says:

    Make them come round often, even to the point of the non-compliance officer… Each visit = someone employed to do it = less profit for Lockheed…… If enough people do it, they could lose money!

    • Craig says:

      My understanding is that Lockheed Martin have provided the software support for form tracking. They are not actually running the whole show. Extra costs will be paid by the taxpayer, i.e. us. Or at least me.

  14. James Fortune says:

    My problem is with question 16. How does one define ethnicity? Under the old “apartied” system of the southern USA, if you had 1/8 negro blood you were considered coloured. However if I had four black grandparents and one white how come I’m still “black”? I questioned this in 2001 and was told I should answer with my opinion, but whose opinion? I could fill in the return with my opinion but my partner disagrees with me and my adult children have different opinions too and it is only legal to fill in seperate forms if we are unrelated. Even if this can be explained, what possible use can the government have for knowing how many people think they are black? Are we to have seperate schools or libraries for people with asian heritage?
    It is illegal for me to fill in false information but no one can explain how I can legitimately answer question 16

    • Jaz says:

      You can always reply that you do not recognise ethnic labels as this can lead to cultural stereotypes and that you prefer to be labelled as a “Human Being”.

      I don’t know if this will be a legitimate and acceptable answer though

    • Mark says:

      Hi James, although it sounds like we have very different circumstances, I have similar problems with this question. I suspect they are confused between “ethnicity” and “race”. You are quite right to refer to the 80s apartheid – it’s that sort of thinking that leads to this sort of question. If it’s any help, I am planning to tick the “other” box and put in “unknown” or “unsure” for this question.

      Best wishes

    • Nick Bannister says:

      I have a lot of experience processing forms that say wthnicity on them, and a lot of experience dealing with organisations seeking to define ethnicity. It’s weirdly a high priority in the world of welfareand adult ed.

      There are no legal definitions in the UK, and as such it is recognised to be a very difficult thing to define. From a census annoyance perspective, I would write a short section on the philosophy of ethnicity, much like your question, handwrite a conclusion and then tick whichever boxes might apply to you (or some random ones should you feel like it) That way someone at LM will have to spend time working out what your answer means, and therefore cannot feed it directly in the their computers.

      On a side note, how can you have 4 black grandparents and one white? Five granparents seems unlikely to me!

    • Ben says:

      @James I think you make a number of interesting and valid points there. What I suggest is that you tick all the boxes, then cross them out again, tick them, cross them out, and then write a long essay in your unneatest handwriting off to one side of the form (or all over it) explaining the difficulty you have encountered in answering this question.
      I’m encountering similar difficulties with most of the questions. Gosh there isn’t half going to be a lot of scrawly writing on my form by the time I’ve finished…

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