Find out what users told us about our plans for 2021 Census Outputs

Someone completing the census on a laptop

Earlier this year, we asked people who use census data what they thought of our plans for 2021 Census outputs. Suzanne Dunsmith, Head of 2021 Census Outputs and Dissemination, reveals the results of our public consultation.

The 2021 Census will provide the most important snapshot of society in a decade, providing estimates of the characteristics of all people and households in the country.

The information gathered will be widely used by a variety of users including government, local authority areas, business and communities. It underpins the allocation of billions of pounds of public money to provide public services like education, transport and health as well as informing decisions on many wide-ranging policies such as the number of car parking spaces needed at supermarkets to the building of new schools, care homes and roads.

What we’re planning…

With so many people relying on the data, it’s vital that outputs are available as quickly as possible and that the way the data is delivered works well for those who need it.

To better understand a wide range of users’ needs, we held a public consultation on our initial view of 2021 Census output design. Nearly 200 people got in touch with feedback which will be used to inform our plans for 2021 Census outputs for England and Wales.

Based on previous user feedback, our stated aim for 2021 Census outputs is to make them more timely, flexible and accessible than previous censuses. We aim to achieve this through a web-based interactive dissemination system where users can specify the data they need for the smallest geographical areas possible, while maintaining the confidentiality of the people behind the numbers. Users will be able to produce tables comparable to 2011 Census as well as many other tabulations.

What you said…

Overall, those who responded to the consultation agreed with our plans for 2021 Census outputs.

There was strong support for our strategy to deliver 2021 census data via a flexible dissemination system and the statistical disclosure control methodology we have developed to protect the identities of people featured within the data.

A total of 88% agreed or strongly agreed that they would prefer to access data via a flexible dissemination system than wait for tables to be produced by the ONS like in 2011 and previous censuses.

Many expressed a need to obtain census data via a single website and have an option for accessing large volumes of data via an Application Programming Interface (API).

A lot of respondents were supportive of our aim to enhance the census data with administrative data to enable analysis on topics not covered by census. There was also an expressed need for timely and accessible origin-destination data which provides useful information such as commuting patterns.

Other respondents told us they needed to be able to compare data between different countries, both within the UK and internationally, and compare the latest census data with previous years.

What’s next…

We’re really pleased with the feedback we have received from users and we’re grateful for their contributions which will shape the development of outputs, benefitting countless individuals and organisations beyond the 2021 Census.

We’re going to continue to develop the outputs as outlined in the consultation. We aim to adopt the flexible dissemination system for census outputs and utilise its benefits beyond census and for other datasets.

We aim to have a public website interface available before census results are available to give users time to become familiar with the system. We’ll also continue to develop the statistical disclosure control methods and seek feedback from experts on our plans.

Most importantly, we’ll continue to closely engage with census data users throughout the duration of the design and delivery of outputs to enable us to address concerns and deliver products that help meet their needs.

Although we produce census data for England and Wales, we will continue to work closely with our colleagues at the National Records of Scotland and Northern Ireland Statistics and Research Agency to ensure comparability of results, where possible.

If you’d like to give us more feedback, please contact the 2021 Census Outputs and Dissemination team at or visit our webpages.

Read the full public consultation report here.


Suzanne Dunsmith, Head of 2021 Census Outputs and Dissemination