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Scotland’s census: Thousands threatened with fines on deadline day

Postal worker Patrona Tunilla holds a sample Scotland's Census letter during the launch of Scotland's Census 2022.
Postal worker Patrona Tunilla holds a sample Scotland's Census letter during the launch of Scotland's Census 2022.

It is deadline day for Scotland’s census – and it looks like response rates north of the border are well below what was achieved in England and Wales.

The big shortfall means thousands could face a fine of up to £1,000 if they don’t complete the national census in time.

Around 13% of Scots have yet to fill theirs in, despite the cut-off date already being extended from April.

What happens if I don’t complete the census?

Technically those who don’t respond to the census in time could be fined up to £1,000.

But so far no one in England and Wales has been fined for not filling in the 2021 census.

The Office of National Statistics did take 286 cases to court for not completing the survey south of the border in 2011.

Of these cases, 270 resulted in guilty convictions – the average fine was £217.99 and four people received the maximum fine of £1,000.

Why is the census held?

Every 10 years since 1801 a census has been carried out.

The government uses the results to inform decisions on services such as healthcare and education across the country.

This census was due to take place in 2021 but it was delayed because of the pandemic.

It did go ahead in England and Wales, with 97% of people filling in their forms.

Scotland’s Census.

What is the response rate?

On the eve of deadline day, Scotland was lagging at 86.6%.

We asked the National Records of Scotland to give an updated breakdown of how many people had responded so far in each council area.

But they did not respond with regional figures.

Officials would only say 26 out of 32 local authorities have achieved over 85%.

According to their earlier breakdown, by the end of April 2022 only 74.8% of those in Aberdeen had responded, indicating how some areas were dragging down the average.

Paul Lowe, chief executive of the NRS, said: “My message to those who have yet to complete it is don’t miss out.

“Don’t regret not taking part.”

Could the deadline be postponed?

The deadline has already been moved back twice, at huge expense to the taxpayer.

When the census was delayed from 2021 a new deadline of May 1 2022 was set.

But even this date had to be scrapped because too few people had filled it in.

This month-long delay ended up adding £9.76 million to the bill.

But 94% of people need to do the census for the data to actually be of use, meaning thousands more will need to respond to the census on deadline day.

Scottish Government minister Angus Robertson, overseeing the census, said the war in Ukraine and the coronavirus pandemic are reasons why so few have filled out the survey.

Angus Robertson MSP.

But given the fact 97% of people completed the survey in England and Wales during the pandemic, critics are saying the low return rate is simply because Scotland didn’t hold its census at the same time as the rest of the UK.

What happens next?

Opposition parties are putting the blame squarely at the SNP’s door, and say future censuses must be held at the same time across all four UK nations to make sure the low response rate doesn’t happen again.

Donald Cameron MSP, the Conservatives’ constitution spokesman, said the SNP was putting its “nationalist ideology” above what is actually best for Scotland.

Donald Cameron MSP.

He said: “By rejecting the chance to be part of a successful UK-wide promotion campaign, the SNP seriously damaged the census response rate.

“The survey has so far cost the taxpayer £150m and there is no guarantee that the Scottish Government will receive enough responses today to make the data useable.

“It is essential that these SNP mistakes are not repeated.”

Both Scottish Labour and the Scottish Lib Dems say they worry future public services will be skewed in favour of those living in more affluent areas because response rates are lower in the more deprived areas of the country.

Sarah Boyack MSP.

Labour’s Sarah Boyack MSP said: “These are not just numbers on a spreadsheet – this is about funding and services for our communities.

“Without action this will deliver a decade of injustice in Scotland as the worst-off communities are left paying the price for SNP failure.”

The census can be filled in online at the Scottish Government’s census webpage.

Iain Maciver: Complete your census form or forever hold your peace

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