FAQs: Answering common questions on filling the Census in

How do I fill in the Census?

For the first time, most people will be filling in the Census online. Most people will receive a letter through the post ahead of 21 March, that will have a unique access code that will allow them to log in and access the form online. For those who are unable to complete the form electronically support centres and paper versions will be available.

I’m in England/Wales and I’m not religious. How should I answer the religion question?

In both the household and individual version of the Census, question 16 asks ‘What is your religion?’ If you are non-religious, you should tick the ‘No religion’ box which is the first option on the list. If you are filling it in for other members of your household please check with them how they would like the question to be answered.

I’m in Scotland and I’m not religious. What about me?

The Census in Scotland has been delayed to 2022 in light of Covid-19. The religion question will ask ‘What religion, religious denomination or body do you belong to?’ If you are non-religious, you should tick the ‘None’ box at the top of the list. Our sister organisation Humanist Society Scotland will have more information on the Census in Scotland in the run-up to the 2022 Census.

I’m in Northern Ireland, and I’m not religious. How should I answer the religion questions?

If you live in Northern Ireland the religion questions are more complicated as the Census is looking to measure not only religious belonging but also community background.

Question 13 asks ‘What religion, religious denomination or body do you belong to?’ Non-religious people should tick ‘None’, which is the last option underneath the write-in box for ‘other’. Make sure you look for this box as it is easy to miss at the end of the list.

Then question 14 asks ‘What religion, religious denomination or body were you brought up in?’ You should answer this according to your own circumstances, but there is some concern that the question has been used to try to count the ‘Protestant’ and ‘Catholic’ ‘communities’. A ‘None’ box is available at the end of the list, and the question is voluntary so you don’t have to answer it at all.

The religion question says ‘optional’. I’m not religious, so can I just skip it? 

Please don’t! The religion question on the Census may be optional – you’re not required to tick any box – but we think it is very important that people answer the question on religion if we want an accurate picture of the country as a basis for law and policy.

We understand that people’s beliefs may be personal and private and we respect the right of people to refuse to answer the question. However, if the non-religious are not fully counted, money will be spent maintaining unfair religious discrimination in our society, including everything from more state-funded faith schools and compulsory religious worship in community schools to contracting out public services to religious organisations who can discriminate against non-religious and LGBT service users.

There will be no negative repercussions on you personally if you do respond. The Census is not interested in you personally – it is used to find general themes in the population. Although it is not anonymous, personal data will not be traced back to you in any analysis so there should be very limited issues about privacy.

I identify as an atheist, agnostic, humanist, freethinker, or another term for non-religious – can I write that instead?

We strongly recommend that all non-religious people, no matter what term(s) they use, tick the ‘No religion’ box.

Ticking ‘No religion’ is better than writing in another answer under the ‘Other religion’ box first of all because ‘humanist’ or ‘atheist’ is not an other religion.

But secondly, when we write something else, other groups can also try to use this against us. Obviously a person with no religion can be an atheist, an agnostic and a humanist all at the same time. But groups who lobby against rights for the non-religious sometimes try to pull out one term and say that only however many small number of people wrote in ‘humanist’ or ‘atheist’, so we shouldn’t be listened to by people in government, or shouldn’t have non-religious views reflected on the school curriculum.

It’s much better all around if we just answer the question ‘What is your religion?’ directly and put ‘No religion’.

I left my family’s religion and I’m now an ‘apostate’. What do I put?

If you have left a religion and now identify as non-religious you should tick the ‘No religion’ or ‘None’ box if you feel it is safe for you to do so. You may be concerned about revealing your religious beliefs, or lack of, to the member of your household who is filling out the census, for fear of being judged or ostracised. You are able to access your own details individually if needed by requesting an individual access code, meaning you are able to discreetly overwrite any answers written for you.

Humanists UK’s apostate support network Faith to Faithless can also provide you with support.

I don’t believe in gods or go to church, but I do feel culturally affiliated to my parents’ religion – what about me?

We think you should tick the ‘No religion’ or ‘None’ box if you don’t believe in a god or gods, or follow the teachings of any religion, even if you:

  • Were raised in a religious family
  • Have a certificate of baptism, confirmation, etc
  • Went to a religious primary or secondary school
  • Attend religious services for special occasions such as for weddings or funerals.

If you are non-religious but want to identify as part of a religious group as it is part of your ethnic background, such as being Jewish or Sikh, you can write this into your response to the ethnic group question which precedes the religion question.

Can’t I protest the question by writing in ‘Jedi’?

We understand that many people wrote in ‘Jedi’ in 2001 and 2011 as a form of protest at being asked about their beliefs. We are encouraging people to tick the ‘no religion’ option instead. The more people who explicitly identify as non-religious, the better chance we have of ensuring inclusive public services and secular, evidence-based policy.

I am worried about the climate and environment, should I use the Census to protest these issues by writing ‘climate concerned’ in answer to the religion question?

No. In past censuses using the religion question’s ‘other’ box to protest an issue has not been a successful means of highlighting it and in fact has generally been counter-productive. For example, very few people write in ‘humanist’ each time (almost all tick ‘no religion’), and as a result the census data is often used against humanists who wish to be appointed to local authority bodies overseeing RE syllabuses or want pastoral support in prisons and hospitals, because the data shows only a very small number of people identified as this. It is therefore used as a means of denying the importance of humanist representation rather than strengthening it.

It is very likely that this will happen with ‘Climate concerned’. There is the danger that the small number recorded in the census could be used inversely against climate activism.

Further, the ONS will also try to categorise all responses into their religious coding framework. For example, if you write ‘heavy metal’ in the other box, you will be categorised as non-religious, and if you write ‘heathen’ you get put in the system as religious. We are not sure how the ONS will code ‘Climate concerned’ responses, but there is the danger that this could be interpreted in a way that you may not have intended or agree with, including being labelled as religious, even if you are not religious.

I’m in the Crown dependencies, what do I need to know about the 2021 Census?

If you are in Jersey, there is a census taking place 21 March 2021. Although this is taking place on the same day as censuses in England, Wales, and Northern Ireland, it is not part of the UK Census, but run by Statistics Jersey. There are no questions on religion in this Census. However, there will be new questions on health, disability, sexual orientation and gender identity. Find out more at Jersey Census.

There is no census taking place in Guernsey this year.

Isle of Man
An order has been laid before the Tynwald to hold a census on 30 May 2021. We believe that this census will contain a question on religion for the first time. It will also contain questions on whether a person identifies with the same sex as assigned to them at birth and what their sexual orientation is. All three questions will be voluntary, with the latter two only asked of those over 16.