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Why I don’t consent to the census

Filling out the census

The government says it will impose fines of up to £1,000 for those who don’t fill in its compulsory census – a heavy-handed approach that makes me want to rail against it like a rebellious teenager.

Sure it may be useful for the government to know a bit more about its citizens, but should it have the right to force us to fill it in and threaten us with a £1,000 fine?

My colleague Martyn Saville argues that it does, but these tactics make me (not known as a conspiracy theorist) question its motives.

Census guilty of information overload

The very first census (dating back to 1801) showed little information other than the number of people in the UK and the occupation of the main householder.

Fast-forward to 2011 and the government needs to know almost everything about me: name; sex; occupation; relationship status; the state of my health; my educational qualifications; who I work for; what I do and how I get there… the list goes on.


According to the census website the information it collects is ‘used to help plan and fund services for your community – services like transport, education and health’. This information will be protected and private for ‘100 years’.

What happens to our data?

I have a number of issues with this. Firstly, how will telling the government if I have an ‘overnight guest’ on the day I fill in the census really help fund services? Do they really need all the information they collect?

Currently, there’s a debate raging around data minimisation and online companies such as Google, who some argue are collecting too much data. Shouldn’t the same questions be asked of HM Gov?

I’m also sceptical about how private my information will be. The government’s track record in looking after personal data isn’t great, not to mention the fact that the UK is well known as the ‘leaky bucket of Europe’.

The EU Commissioner is currently proposing, again with relation to being online, that we should have the ‘right to be forgotten’ – i.e. to regain control of our data. Should governments be exempt from this?

Jedi mind tricks

At the last census a reported 390,000 people declared their religion as Jedi and 7,000 people said they were witches.

Is this just high jinks or am I not the only one who has serious concerns about how their data will be used? With a ‘Count Me Out’ campaign gaining momentum and whispers of growing numbers of people planning to boycott the form, it seems likely I’m not alone here.

Perhaps, some people think £1,000 is a risk worth taking when it’s their privacy at stake.

Do you share these concerns or are you happy to fill the census out? Read why Martyn Saville loves the census and thinks it should go even further.

Are you for or against the 2011 census?

For (60%, 391 Votes)

Against (40%, 257 Votes)

Total Voters: 648

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Generally for a census, but not the fine.

Did you know though that not changing your address on your driving license also carries a fine of £1000?

There are quite a few around like this and so I would just brush it under the carpet, unless you are planning to stay a few years in your current place

The data the census collects is generally info that all your insurance, mortgage, rentals, employers etc already have. Just because the government wants this info doesn’t mean that it’s any less / more safe.

They’ll use it as a big stick to beat us with though, thats for sure 🙂

Zoe says:
24 March 2011

I’m neither for or against it to be honest. The questions seem so banal. I remember the last census form I filled in asking for my income level, which this doesn’t, and no doubt there are others that aren’t being asked for one reason or another. I can’t see much in the way of ‘forward planning’ coming out of the responses – and as Sarah says, of what possible relevance is the knowledge that you have or don’t have an overnight guest?
As for the £1000 fine, yes, it’s ludicrous, government waving its big stick, just because it can… or maybe it’s another way of reducing the current deficit!

Steve says:
30 March 2011

As for overnight visitors, they have been included in all censuses (and marked as such since 1851) otherwise there would not be anything approaching a full headcount, because if you are visiting somebody else’s home on that night then you should not be on your home’s return.

As for the fine, if it wasn’t there then people just wouldn’t do it, same as they don’t bother to vote.



So census information is ‘used to help plan and fund services for your community – services like transport, education and health’.

Does this mean the current chaos is planned?

Jasmine66 says:
24 March 2011

Think its just to keep few people off the jobless figures while they collate the info.
How can they plan services when our borders are so weak and they don’t have a clue how many illegals are in the country….money would be better spent chasing them.
Surely all the honest are all on electoral register anyhow so no need for this.

Conrad says:
31 March 2011

I’m afraid Jasmine that only over 18’s would be on the electoral role!


Your full name’s already in the system, As is Your age & sex.

I reckon You tell FaceBook.Com more about Your life & sex life, Than You’ll be asked in this census :/

We need to record wheather physically sick or mentally sick, disabled, or both, etc, This helps see how many people may relie on The NHS or those who can afford or want to go private.

More people may have gone to The Denist when it was under NHS, Where less go now because its privately funded & Less NHS Denist’s around.

We all hate being forced or made or even asked/told to do something we fill isn’t needed, But The Census & Voting In Elections Is an Right & We should never be allowed to back out of that right.

Google, Sainsburys, Tesco, & Loads more only want our information for selling us some stuff we might not want or need,

Were collecting information about the Uk people & What we do & don’t do every 10 years or so, Is for help improving public & private services, NHS, Police, Social Services, Traveling, Trains, & More.

Some people aren’t religous & Some believe if enough people believe or joke about an religion, It has to be accepted as an religion & Some want Jedi to become an recgnozied relegion for what ever reason, But most people don’t take religion seriously or as an serious question in The Census,

Were I hope those being asked about health, housing, schooling, wages, human rights, & So on answer honstely & fairly.

Your only asked every 10 years or so, Stop moaning, Were Compaines ask You nearl every day,week, month, year, questions & personal questions.

[Message from mods: I’ve fixed those starred out words for you Scott. Thanks.]


If some people think its worth an £1000.00p fine or prison, All just because of some questions & personal questions every 10 years,

Then You’ve either got to much money on Your hands Or You think the whole worlds spying on You, In either case You may need help mentally & An life.

If someone wanted to spy on You & gather all the information together & Use the information about You in an good way or bad way or both,

They certainly wouldn’t use an census every 10 years, They’d use many different platform/s, including spying & Even then not spying.

This is The Uk peoples Right & Chance to express themselves & answer the questions honestly to help The Uk change & get better services & What The Uk people are worried about,

Without us all being worried about being spyed on, Its about helping as many people as possible & Not focusing on person or family, All our views count & Need recording, Or otherwise were never know if our thoughts,views,opinions,worries,concerns, were dealt with or ignored over the 10 years, Or if things got better,worse, or stayed the same.

We need to record progress as The Uk people & Not as one person or family, Or small group.

UK biggest sceptic? says:
24 March 2011

Hmmm well they can try and fine me, i’ve already taken offence at the questions, ripped it in half and chucked it in the fire… I have MS with brain damage, anxiety, depression etc and my hubby is dyslexic, what they gonna do, take us to court for being disabled? Its the biggest load of balls i’ve heard since the government decided to say “oh we’re going to take a penny off fuel, you should be grateful even though the vat rise added 3p in the first place”.
What difference would it make if i went through the hassle of filling it out, what difference does it make what my childrens names are for example. We need to record our views my a*se. Just seems like a pointless bunch of questions that they are trying to bully us into answering, i don’t see why we should give them information that they’ll probably lose anyway.


Sorry to hear The 2011 Census has upset You so muhc 🙁 :/ *HUGS*

The Census is for many reasons, & Can be an struggle, Yet its harder to record history for our childrens children & The next generation.

I’m sure the ill,disabled,& mentally ill, & Learning Differeculties can all get help filling out The Census 2011.

UK biggest sceptic? says:
24 March 2011

There is no help Scott that we’ve been made aware of, hence why its so much worse for us to think about. Do you know how demoralising it is to admit to not being able to do something that everyone else can do and ask for help that isn’t there? The added stress of the £1000 fine really sticks it in and basically the answer seems to bury your head in the sand and ignore it…


Well as we all know local charities,cabs, & more are closing or reducing there services & help,

I’ve not read My census 2011 form, As My Mum’s just taken over & Told Me to fill out My Boyfriends one, As I’ll be at His flat on 27th staying the night,

So I’m not aware of what questions they are asking, But its good to record what services have declined, etc.

Anyway I’d maybe suggest seeking help form an local CAB, Rethink, Or MIND, Or another charity.

I don’t think they will fine those who are willing to fill out The Census 2011 Forms, But are having trouble due to there mental health, physical disability, or both, & Other health problems,

I think they’ll fine those who are health & Write to Governement out right fufusing to fill out such Census 2011 forms,

Were those willing to fill the census forms out, But struggling won’t be fined, As fair as I know.

I know forms are very hard, As if Your like Me, You may choose to fill out Disability Living Allowance (DLA) Forms every 2 years for renewal due to Your disabilities physical or mental, or both.

Maybe The 2011 Census input may mean in 2021 it’ll be made easier to fill out the next census & may get help & less questions, Maybe people can do an basic census & Fill out extra one’s online in 2021.


Sorry to hear about the trouble you’re having filling out the census. I’ve just done a bit of googling to see if I can find any more resources for you to get help. It seems like most local councils and boroughs are offering drop-in help sessions of some kind – perhaps if you ring your local council they could point you in the right direction?

There’s also this FAQ on the census website explaining how you can get more help – it looks like you can get someone to come to your house and help – although admittedly they’re not making that an easy option!


I have had a quick look at the form and I’m quite happy to provide the information requested. I am glad that I only have to complete 10 of the 32 pages.

I am happy to help.

Susan Jensen says:
25 March 2011

The alternative is that as the population changes over time the government is forever trying to catch up based on demand that is already occurring, rather than have any ability to plan for it.

If you are part of the aging population, wouldn’t you like to at least give the government a chance to prepare for you as part of that aging population (increase the number of geriatric medical services, care homes, community support)? The alternative is that you need the services and realise that because you didn’t help the government count correctly, they didn’t provide enough.

If all the chronically ill/disabled people ripped up their forms, would you be surprised to find out that the government didn’t provide services for them since they didn’t know there were any?

If you don’t complete the census, you lose the moral right to complain about the government’s priorities.


My problem with the census is the US arms firm Lockheed Martin. What’s the link you might ask?

The company, which makes Trident nuclear missiles, cluster bombs and F-16 fighter jets, won the £150m contract to run the census on behalf of the Office for National Statistics (ONS).

I am an ‘ethical’ person, shop responsibly, make sure my money is not invested in arms trade, and here I am obliged to fill in a census form which finances an US arms firm.

Besides, as raised earlier, what really happens to our data? This is what the Guardian wrote on Saturday: “Lockheed Martin – which does 80% of its work for the US defence department – assists more than two dozen American government agencies and is involved in surveillance and data processing for the CIA and FBI. It has controversially provided private contract interrogators to the Abu Ghraib prison in Iraq and Guantánamo Bay in Cuba. All US-based companies are subject to the Patriot Act, which allows the US government to have access to any data in the company’s possession”.

But should I boycott the census? Lockheed Martin has already won the contract… is it too late?

UK biggest sceptic? says:
25 March 2011

That is disgusting, surely if the government were to spend £150million of taxpayers money they could’ve at least used a UK company to ensure that the money went into our economy, not put straight into the pocket of an unscrupulous unethical US company who could possibly be asked by the US to give all of our details to them? Even more reason why I am not prepared to go to the hassle and heartache of trying to fill out the form.

Irving Wiseman says:
25 March 2011

My worry is the security of the data. It was believable on previous censuses that the information would not be revealed for 100 years because it was all paper records which could be held in secure facilities. Anyway if some went astray it wouldn’t have been a major disaster. This year’s however will all be held in computer files which as everyone knows can never be guaranteed secure and can be copied off in minutes.Parts of the whole database will be legally copied to memory devices and be worked on by numerous civil servants so that all over the country lost and recopied sections of this information will spread like a virus . OUR INFO. WILL JUST NOT BE SECURE

Steve says:
30 March 2011

Well as all of the other censuses from 1841 up to 1911 are available on line for those who care to look, this one will just be digitised a bit sooner.

And there is virtually no information on the form that is not already in the hands of many others, so if anybody really is interested in my colour, or if I think that I am English or British, then they are welcome to dig into the census to find out. That is about the only 2 bits that I havent filled in on other forms in recent years.



Last time we had a census we had census people coming round door to door from the local council to find out why your census was not returned. I chatted to the woman who came to my door (I had forgotten to fill it out as other concerns had intervened). She was there to give any help required – for those who had not bothered to phone the council for help..

I am in favour of the £1000 fine – you are required to fill it in whether you like it or not – just like having a driving license and insurance if you have a car. You live here you fill it out.

I could not see any reason NOT to fill it out – My only ‘problem” is the religious/ethnic questions – I am Jewish ethnically and religiously – other than that – it is a useful set of information to help planning for the future. Hopefully it will also help in tracking illegal immigrants and other migrants as our borders are nowhere near secure enough.

steve says:
28 March 2011

I object to it mostly on the grounds that an arms company is running it, as a pacifist it pains me to contemplate boosting their profits.

There is a way of costing them money though, fill it in, but remove all the serial number/barcodes etc and fill in the form upside down, tick outside the tick boxes etc, it will have to be sorted by hand and so will cost more.

You will be counted and so benefit your local community in a small way possibly but you will be contributing less to a multinational murderer.

I suggest you add a note expressing why you have done this as well.
Add something to the religion box, Jedi was funny but anything you believe strongly in, if enough people feel the same way it has to be recognised as a religion!


I’m generally in favour of the Census, but do understand people’s concerns of privacy. The company running the show does raise questions that I think need to be answered.

Nevertheless, mine’s in the post – and I left them a wee gift. A nice little picture in the space for ‘Question 17’ – which started ‘This question has been intentionally left blank…’ Did anyone put something in there?

Jack says:
11 June 2011

I do understand where you are coming from too, but in all reasonable practicality, I should have the simple right to decide whether I want to fill it or not. I live in a commonwealth country where, of course, democracy is suppose to play. Government will make decisions or poll numbers no matter. I just feel better not always having to give information out. There are also questions that are irrelevant also. No one should be fined because they chose not to answer.


I didn’t mind the threat of a £1,000 fine – without it, I’m sure many people wouldn’t bother to fill in the form. And as to the question regarding the overnight guest, it was because the last census missed out many of those who had stayed over at someone else’s home that night so it didn’t return an accurate population count.

I wasn’t sure why I need to tell the government how many rooms I’ve got in my home, or why they’re interested in my heating. Were there any questions that anyone else thought were odd?

AGATE says:
30 March 2011

The census is an absurd waste of money.
All this information is available probably ten times over to the Government if they collate what they have already in their vast but separate empires.
I expect they could buy better information from the supermarkets.
Clearly people here illegally will not complete the information.
If it is meant to be used for planning it is a joke.
We might as well all be micro chipped like dogs or cattle.
Think of all the alternative uses of £500m of our money. Perhaps we could give some to world citizens who need it more than we do.

UK biggest sceptic? says:
30 March 2011

I still haven’t done it, when they come round and IF they force me do they really think i’m going to bother filling it in properly? No and I refer back to the company who won the contract being an American arms dealer and under the patriot act being duty bound to give the data to the US government as and when they ask for it. I wouldn’t buy a blood diamond and don’t see why I should have anything to do with a company like that either. Real life is more important than poxy **** like that.
I don’t vote either, why should I, what difference would it make if I went to the hassle of dragging my wheelchaired *** out to do it when they’re all crooks, all as bad as each other?
They should just put the money into some important service they’ve had to cut instead.

[Message from mods: Hi, we’ve edited that back in for you now. Our profanity filter can be a bit over the top. Thanks]

Steve says:
30 March 2011

“I don’t vote either, why should I, what difference would it make if I went to the hassle of dragging my wheelchaired *** out to do it when they’re all crooks, all as bad as each other?
They should just put the money into some important service they’ve had to cut instead.”

Perhaps if more people did make the effort to vote, or even to stand against the party machines, then important services wouldn’t be suffering the way they are?

UK biggest sceptic? says:
30 March 2011

No not at all, because all the parties are as bad as each other, they’re all totally out of touch with ‘normal’ people, ‘normal’ families who can’t afford big 2 big swanky cars for each parent, 3 holidays abroad a year etc, the country is run by the elite for the elite. and the elite have private healthcare and private schooling… anyway, this is getting off course…..

Liz says:
30 March 2011

Goodness me! What a lot of fuss about answering a few simple questions, none of which are seriously personal. I bet half the people making all this todo, have voluntarily given far more information about themselves and their friends and relations, world wide on the internet in one form or another.

bernard says:
31 March 2011

you say you feel like a rebellious teenager..surely not…..What about being a rebelling adult?

prue says:
31 March 2011

I have completed it. I share concerns about data security but as others have pointed out simply going online destroys your personal security. Data mining is big business and I am horrified at the amount of personal information you can gather online on all kinds of people without paying a penny – and a lot more if you subscribe to one of these data mining sites.

How many of you have a loyalty card? Why do they do these? They collate the data on what you buy, where you shop etc and keep in it a file all about you. It’s got nothing to do with rewarding you for your loyalty 🙂

I’m a family historian – I know the efforts people went to to get the 1911 census released early – they refused to do it and they did NOT promise they would keep that one locked for 100 years. So I doubt they will consider releasing this one early. But your descendents will bless you for completing it carefully and thoroughly – I’m fairly miffed I can’t add comments for my yet to be born relatives online. And the family history community is tending to do it online and keep the actual form as a historical document to keep and pass on.

Falkenna says:
31 March 2011

I subscribe to Which? to help me negotiate the unrestrained greed of our global economy, but sometimes I forget that in the end, it is a magazine for the sole purpose of consumerism . But I did expect better than implied mockery of those whose love of the planet we’re wrecking, to produce those consumer goods, runs deep to the point of spirituality. I myself don’t like the word “witch”, but plenty do; still, the Pagan Federation has been negotiating since the last census to get both our numbers and our identities recognized. You’ll see a lot more than 7,000 this time who sign up as “Pagan – Witch”, “Pagan – Druid”, or just “Pagan”.

While of course only a relatively small number of those who wrote in “Jedi” actually meant it, in my view even they have a more worthy religion than those who worship only things and money.


One question puzzled me, so answered “no”
“did you spend more than 30 days at another address”
I spent more than 30 days way from home, just not at the same address. I do not see the point of that question