Guide To: Completing the Census as an LGBT+ Person

Sunday 21st March is Census 2021. Most of us know the basics about what the Census is – a survey that happens every 10 years and gives us a picture of all the people and households in England and Wales – and how to complete it. 

We are required by law to complete the survey and the answers we give to the census questions will help organisations make decisions on planning and funding public services where we live, including transport, education and healthcare.

You can find out more about the logistics of completing the Census here. But what about completing the Census as an LGBT+ person? In our ‘Guide To’ we answer key questions that our community is asking.

Why is this Census so important to LGBT+ people?

In a significant step forward, for the first time ever, the Census survey will ask questions about gender identity and sexual orientation. The questions are voluntary.

Why is it so important for the LGBT+ community to take part?

Apart from being required by law to complete the Census and risking a fine of up to £1,000 if you do not, the new questions included in Census 2021 mean that LGBT+ communities will be recognised and data about them will be used to shape, change and influence policies. 

The census asks for lots of personal information like name and date of birth, will this be shared?

Any personal information you put on your census is only used for statistical purposes and all data is anonymised, which means they don’t contain any information that will allow you or anyone you live with to be identified. Some information, such as your date of birth, is only required to ensure no-one is counted more than once.

What about if you are not out or you are living or staying with people who do not know you are LGBT+?

If you want to answer separately from your household or override any responses in your main household questionnaire, you can request a separate access code to start a separate census. Your individual questionnaire will be completely confidential and your individual answers will take priority over answers in any household census. Your parents, housemates or landlord will not be able to see your individual responses.

An individual census can be requested by contacting the Census 0800 number and asking for an additional form with a new Unique Access Number. This can either be posted out – or sent via text message to the recipient. 

The High Court ruled that guidance on the sex question in the census must be changed. What does that mean to the LGBT+ community?

This ruling was made on 9th March following a legal challenge brought by the Fair Play for Women group, which argued it unlawfully allowed gender self-identification.

 The Office for National Statistics (ONS) had issued new advice on how to answer the question “What is your sex?” on the survey this year, which read: “If you are considering how to answer, use the sex recorded on one of your legal documents such as a birth certificate, gender recognition certificate, or passport. If you are aged 16 years or over, there is a later voluntary question on gender identity. This asks if the gender you identify with is different from your sex registered at birth. If it is different, you can then record your gender identity.”

Unlike birth certificates and gender recognition certificates, people can change the sex listed on thier passport without legal process.

The High Court ruled that the guidance should be rewritten to remove the words “such as” and “or passport”, to make clear that respondents should only use the sex recorded on their birth or gender recognition certificate.

Following the ruling the ONS issued a statement saying: “We are continuing to ask a binary choice, female or male, sex question on the census. This approach is unchanged since 1801. There is a new voluntary question on gender identity for people aged 16 years and over later in the questionnaire.

“As with previous censuses, most people will not need help to answer the sex question. For those that do, we are providing guidance, as we do for all census questions. In line with the court’s order to grant interim relief we have amended this guidance to advise they use sex as recorded on a birth certificate or gender recognition certificate.”

This is a blow to trans and gender non-conforming people whose gender identity does not match those listed on the accepted legal documents.

Do I have to complete the census on 21st March?

No, you can do it early – as soon as you receive your access code. Or, if you cannot do it on the day, you can complete it online until early May, however it must be based on those in your household on 21st March. If you complete the survey early and your circumstances change, you’ll need to contact the ONS to let them know.


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