The Office for National Statistics (ONS) has opened a consultation on replacing future censuses in England and Wales with more regular data gathering from different sources.


A national census of the UK population has been conducted every ten years since 1801, apart from in 1941.

All censuses since 1841 have included a complete list of all the residents of each household, with relevant information about them.

Census records are released to the public after 100 years, making them an invaluable record for family historians.

In 2014, the UK government stated an aim that “censuses after 2021 will be conducted using other sources of data and providing more timely statistical information”.

The ONS has now published a proposal document outlining new methods of gathering data on the population.

National Statistician Sir Ian Diamond says: “Our society needs a flexible, inclusive statistical system for the 21st century, one that maintains a stable level of accuracy over time and is fit for purpose in responding to unexpected change in a timely way. Based on our work to date, I believe we can move beyond the decade-long cycle of population statistics that has dominated for centuries and deliver a system befitting this digital age in which we live.

“Of course, we cannot rely on administrative data alone, and surveys may play an important role in our future statistics. But we have reached a point where a serious question can be asked about the role the census plays in our statistical system.”

The consultation document describes proposals to gather data on the population using administrative data such as tax, benefit and border data.

It also proposes a Longitudinal Population Dataset that would use anonymised core data from the 2021 census, as well as other sources, to study outcomes for the population and sub-groups over time.

Regarding the use of the census by family historians, the consultation document notes: “The ONS’s proposals for a Longitudinal Population Dataset present the opportunity to retain a rich historical record of the population to support future genealogical and social research. Such records could take the form of more frequent snapshots of data by individual and address that could also be linked longitudinally. While still covering the full population, the available records would be richer in some instances than others, drawing on a range of sources that could expand over time and also respond to the topical issues of the day. Data held for historical purposes would be stored securely and ethically, separate from any personal identifiers, until appropriate to be published as historical records.”

Members of the public are invited to read the consultation document and submit their feedback online.

A question in the consultation entitled “Data needs for genealogy and social history” asks respondents what population data they think should be preserved for the use of future generations.

The consultation is available here and runs until 26 October.


Rosemary Collins is the features editor of Who Do You Think You Are? Magazine