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John Pullinger, Office of National Statistics
"It's really taken us by surprise"
 real 28k

Wednesday, 25 April, 2001, 07:39 GMT 08:39 UK
Census helpline inundated with calls
Census form
All households must complete the forms
Plans for the smooth running of the national census have been thrown into disarray after hundreds of thousands of people besieged a telephone hotline set up to help them answer questions.

The National Statistics office admits it has been inundated with calls and is now installing 400 extra lines and doubling the number of operators to help deal with the inquiries.

It says it has been taken back by the volume of queries. There were 240,000 calls to the helpline on Monday alone, more than during the whole of the 1991 census.

Census statistics
23 million households surveyed
30 million census forms printed
40-41 census questions
70,000 temporary census workers
Census will cost 255m

Many callers have complained of getting an unobtainable signal and the helpline being constantly engaged.

The once-in-a-decade population census will help shape the provision of public services such as healthcare and schools over the next 10 years.

Every household must take part in the survey or risk a 1,000 fine.

With days to go before National Census Day on 29 April, the office says it is trying to resolve the problems and denies it was badly prepared to deal with questions about the most detailed and complex census yet.

A spokesman told the BBC that thousands of people were telephoning the helpline to ask why they had not yet received a form.

He added that the deluge may be a good thing, showing that people are taking the census seriously.

Internet

The census includes many new elements.

For the first time the form can be posted back.

There is an optional question about religious denomination and there are options to define yourself as of mixed race or Irish ethnicity.

Up to 70,000 people have helped organise the census, which will cost an estimated 255m.

There are 40 questions in the form in England but 41 in Wales to include a survey of Welsh language speakers.

The main results of the census will be published in summer 2003 and will be made available mainly on the internet.

The number for the national telephone helpline, which has been set up in 12 different languages, is 0845 301 2001.

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10 Mar 01 | Entertainment
Census data stranger than fiction
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