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The BBC's Branwen Jeffreys
"It will not be until early summer next year that the first results are published"
 real 56k

Director 2001 Census, Graham Jones
"It matters that everybody's counted in the census, but babies particularly"
 real 28k

Sunday, 29 April, 2001, 16:07 GMT 17:07 UK
Thousands wait for census forms
Census delivery
Thousands of people have not received their forms
Last minute efforts are being made to distribute thousands of undelivered census forms on National Census Day.

Every household in the United Kingdom is required by law to return the questionnaire about their personal details, or face a 1,000 fine.

But the national census helpline, set up to help with queries about the survey, has received about 15,000 calls from people who have not received their forms or have lost or damaged the form or envelope.

If people haven't received a form we will get one to them as soon as possible

Office for National Statistics
The information gathered from Sunday's snapshot of the nation will be used to help the government decide how to spend public money.

The once-in-a-decade survey is at its most complex this year, with new elements that include a question about religious denomination.

A spokeswoman for the Office for National Statistics told BBC News Online that the number of people who had not received a form had been wildly exaggerated by the media.

"It's probably a number of thousands, but thousands of people isn't a great number when we have a population of 52.5 million," she said.

"As far as we're concerned it is going very well. If people haven't received a form we will get one to them as soon as possible. But the majority of people have received the form and we have had a considerable number back."

Inner city access

The census helpline is to stay open until June to help people with queries about the survey, but forms should be returned as soon as possible.

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

Census officials will start to chase up unreturned forms from around 9 May.

A spokesman said 5.2 million forms had already been returned, almost a quarter of those expected.

He added some delays were expected in delivering and returning the forms in areas where movement was restricted by foot-and-mouth.

He said there had also been delivery delays in inner city areas where security meant access to some households was a problem.

Newborn babies

There is an extra incentive for new parents to fill in the form as the organisers are giving out free sleepsuits to households where a baby is born on Sunday.

This is to encourage the newborns' inclusion on the form, as many are believed to have missed out in the last census.

John Pullinger, of the Office of National Statistics, said that handling 28 million forms represented a huge operation.

He told the BBC that the initial findings of the census would be ready by the summer of 2002 with detailed reports published in 2003.

"This will give all the richness of information that we need to plan services for where we put schools, hospitals and other services over the next ten years," he said.

A total of 342 people were prosecuted in the last census in 1991 for not completing their forms.

Schoolchild in classroom
The census will help decide schools' spending
But the civil rights group, Liberty, thinks people should not be penalised for not filling in their forms.

Spokeswoman Deborah Clarke said some may not want to answer the question on ethnic origin if they feel under threat from racists.

"We wouldn't want to discourage people from filling it in as I do think there is a greater social purpose here," she said.

However she added that if someone was fined for failing to fill the form in, they were welcome to contact Liberty stating their reasons and it would consider if these were strong enough to support a human rights case.

For the first time the form can be posted back.

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 telephone helpline, which has been set up in 12 different languages for queries about census questions, is 0845 301 2001.

Anyone who has not received a form is asked to call 0845 301 3000.

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See also:

10 Mar 01 | Entertainment
Census data stranger than fiction
27 Apr 01 | UK
The census and Big Brother
27 Apr 01 | UK
Census Q&A
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