Tuesday, October 30, 2012

Ros in the Lords: Written Question - Census

Here's one of Ros's interventions that I hadn't covered, from 14 March 2011...

The question, "Who fills in a census form?" was one that was bothering Ros, especially given the importance of the information therein, and so it was time to find out, especially given the small, but rather critical, point of who gets fined if it isn't filled in...

Baroness Scott of Needham Market (Liberal Democrat)

To ask Her Majesty's Government which persons within a household have the legal responsibility to complete the 2011 Census.

To ask Her Majesty's Government, further to the Answer by Lord Taylor of Holbeach on 7 March (Official Report, col. 1354), what is their understanding of the term "head of the household"; and on what, if any, legal source they are basing that understanding.

Lord Taylor of Holbeach (Whip, House of Lords; Conservative)

The information requested falls within the responsibility of the UK Statistics Authority. I have asked the authority to reply.

Letter from Stephen Penneck, Director-General for ONS, to Baroness Scott of Needham Market, dated March 2011.

As Director General for the Office for National Statistics (ONS) I have been asked to reply to your Parliamentary Questions asking, (a) which persons within a household have the legal responsibility to complete the 2011 Census (HL7491); and (b) what is the Government's understanding of the term "head of the household"; and on what, if any, legal source they are basing that understanding. (HL7492)

(a) It is the householder or joint householder who is responsible for completing the household census questionnaire on behalf of all residents living at their address. In households where the responsibilities of the householder fall on more than one person, any such person may complete the questionnaire on behalf of the entire household.

Any person living at an address who is over the age of 16, may request an individual questionnaire, rather than be included on the household questionnaire.

Any person responsible for completing a questionnaire may authorise any other person to do this on their behalf, if they are unable to do so themselves for any reason.

(b) The terms "householder" or "joint householder" are used in the 2011 Census rather than "head of the household".

The Census (England and Wales) Order 2009 (S.I 2009/3210) defines a householder or joint householder as "a person usually resident at the address who either owns or rents accommodation at that address, or is responsible for paying household bills and expenses there". A household is also defined in the order as being "one person living alone or a group (whether or not related) living at the same address who share cooking facilities and share a living room, sitting room or dining room".

Call me old-fashioned, but are you any clearer about the point, because I'm not...


Jennie said...

I thought that was all perfectly understandable, but then I did landlord and tenant law.

Basically they have made the definition of who CAN fill the census in a pretty broad one, so that every house will be covered. Any person who contributes financially to the household is a householder and thus CAN fill in the census, or can nominate someone else to do it for them if they can't or don't want to. This means that even in a squat, someone will be paying a gas or water bill and they are lkegally definable as a householder, so will qualify as a person capable of either filling the census in themselves or nominating someone else to do it for them.

Of course, having such a broad definition makes it difficult to answer Ros's question. My instict, when it comes to fines, is that they will go after the person who makes the MOST financial contribution to the household, but I suspect there will need to be case law to test this instict, and there will be wrangling over whether or not it's a straight financial sum or whether (for example) rent counts for more than other bills.

Mark Valladares said...


I think that the case law point is a very strong one, and await the first such case with genuine interest.

And it flags up an interesting question about what is intended by those drafting legislation, and their sense of what a household actually might be. I worry, occasionally, that the potential narrow-mindedness of those drafting legislation is the cause of some of the difficulties experienced by those whose lifestyles are less constrained by societal convention.