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.
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.
Doorstep Security Guide — Census 2011 site.
What do they know? — Freedom of Information request into census non-compliance prosecutions.