Skip to the content

Supporting the unsung heroes of the National Census


Industry Voice

Get UKAuthority News


Industry voice: Local authorities need to support their local address custodians to ensure they get their full benefits from the 2021 census, writes Nick Chapallaz, GeoPlace managing director.

The National Census of 2021 will be crucial to the future of local authorities throughout the England and Wales. It will provide the data to inform the Government’s perspective on their challenges on a national scale, influence the targeting of resources and feed into decisions on funding for local initiatives.

In turn, accurate data will be crucial to the census, ensuring that every residential address is identified, and all the relevant information collected. This is where the address custodians in local government are going to emerge as key figures in shaping the future for their authorities and the national outlook for public services.

They can be the unsung heroes of the census, but they need the support of their organisations to fulfil the promise.

The Office for National Statistics (ONS), which runs the census, has estimated that its total value for local authorities over the next 10 years will be around £1.8 billion, largely in determining the level of support to come from central government. It feeds into resources such as the area classifications and the Index of Multiple Deprivation to identify future demand for services and support the provision of schools, healthcare facilities and other social infrastructure.

It also supports councils in their joint strategic needs assessments and development of local and neighbourhood plans, helping to support its own allocation of resources. It can feed into planning school places, support for older people, transport infrastructure, energy efficiency projects, recreational facilities and local consultations.

New resource

Traditionally, ONS has worked with its own address register to run the census. But it has acknowledged a big advance and this time around will make use of AddressBase, which provides detailed location intelligence supplied by councils. It is managed by GeoPlace, the joint venture between Ordnance Survey and the Local Government Association, and relies heavily on input from the local address custodians.

AddressBase brings together addressing datasets from local authorities that are built by local address custodians together with data from Ordnance Survey, the Valuation Office Agency and Royal Mail. Each record is aligned a unique property reference number (UPRN) – the unique identifier for every addressable location in Great Britain.

All of this information provides accurate and up-to-date information on addresses, properties and land areas. It makes it possible to distinguish the ‘difficult’ addresses such as houses in multiple occupation (HMOs), where it can be difficult to specify the number of people living, and communal establishments (CEs) including care homes, student residences, boarding schools and prisons. The latter account for a tiny proportion of the total – just 85,000 from 25.5 million addresses in the 2011 census – but missing one of these means missing more people. Also, they often provide homes for people in need of special support and have a big influence on the needs of a local community.

It is important to distinguish between different types of CEs to ensure the questionnaires are targeted correctly and returned with the appropriate data. For example, a special questionnaire will be sent to the manager of those such as care homes, while individual questionnaires will go to each inhabitant of a student residence.

Crucial role

This is where the role of the local address custodians is crucial, as they are best placed to identify CEs and provide the local knowledge that feeds into AddressBase. They can draw on other data within their authorities to ensure that classification codes are correct and the correct UPRN is attached; to indicate how many people are understood to live at the address; and to ensure the address provides a reliable indicator of the location.

All this will help the enumerators – the people taking the census – to capture data from more complex properties.

Custodians also maintain Local Property and Street Gazetteers, that feed into AddressBase. And in recording UPRNs for individual addresses they will provide the consistent point of reference for steps taken after the census. UPRNs will be crucial in calculating any financial support for councils, getting a more detailed picture of demographics and living conditions, assessing transport needs and evaluating public health.

But these are demanding tasks and they need the resources and support from their authorities to do the job effectively.


GeoPlace is supporting the work of the custodians by supplying files for them to update classifications for residential properties, and working with other data suppliers such as Ordnance Survey, the NHS Care Quality Commission and HM Land Registry to classify properties at a granular level.

ONS is supporting custodians in the effort by attending the regional group meetings of GeoPlace, providing briefings on what it needs from them, how this can influence the picture that emerges from the census, and the difference it will make to their authorities. But it wants senior officials within councils to fully understand the significance and to reinforce its support.

It is also sending out a survey through GeoPlace, asking for feedback on any concerns or how procedures might affect the ability to identify properties correctly, both now and in the near future. It is also open to questions submitted through GeoPlace.

The overall message is that a high quality census will be reliant upon a high quality address frame underpinned by AddressBase, which has to be accurate to enable ONS to produce accurate population counts and statistics – and local address custodians will be crucial in making this happen.

Local authorities wanting to receive what they are due as a result of the census, and wanting to have high quality data to inform their own plans, need to give their custodians the tools, time and resources to ensure they can rise to the challenge.

Visit the GeoPlace website to find resources supporting local address custodians with the 2021 census.

Image from ONS, Open Government Licence v3.0



Register For Alerts

Keep informed - Get the latest news about the use of technology, digital & data for the public good in your inbox from UKAuthority.