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Monday, 30 April, 2001, 12:09 GMT 13:09 UK
Census forms 'confusing'
census forms
Householders should have completed their forms on Sunday
Northern Ireland's Citizen Advice Bureau has criticised the census office for focusing on style rather than content in this year's census form.

Cathy Dornan, Director of the Belfast division of CAB said that the office had received a number of calls from "confused and panicked" members of the public.

"Queries or complaints have come to our offices in two distinct categories," she said.

"There have been queries from people who have problems filling in the form through illiteracy problems.


People are finding the form very intimidating

Cathy Dornan
CAB

"There have also been calls from elderly people who are very confused at what is being asked of them.

"The question on age, which has been broken down into age groups, is proving problematic for a number of people."

Ms Dornan said the form had proven "very intimidating" for many people, who had filled their forms out under the threat of a 1,000 fine.

"The reaction we have been getting is that people are finding the form very intimidating," she said.

Panic stricken public

"People are filling in the form in a panic and I think the organisers are going to have one very big headache when all the forms are returned."

Other problems encountered by CAB staff have included a number of complaints against the religious question in the form.

Census office enumerators were also criticised for inconsistencies in the delivery of forms.

"We have heard from some people whose forms were stuck through their letter box while they were out.

"Other callers were told that forms would only be delivered to the householder in person."

"We know of one lady who called the census office a fortnight ago and still hasn't received a form.

"She is very worried that she will be fined through no fault of her own.

Finance Minster: Mark Durkan
Finance Minster: Mark Durkan

"The census office seem to have been very free with this 1,000 fine.

"I think they have gone quite over the top about it all. People are focusing on this fine instead of what's actually in the form."

Ms Dornan said the Citizens Advice Bureau had received in between 15 and 20 enquiries on the census.

"I understand that the census office themselves have been inundated with calls," she added.

50% of forms returned

Meanwhile, Finance Minister Mark Durkan has said that up to half of Northern Ireland households have already returned their census forms.

The SDLP minister has appealed to the rest of the population to post back their forms as soon as possible.

"We appreciate the co-operation that we are getting in filling in the census forms, we want to make sure that people post them back," he said.

"We are very glad that as of Sunday night, the Post Office indicated that they had received about 50% of the forms."

Mr Durkan said he did not want to threaten fines at this point.

"What we want to do is encourage everybody's participation because the census will work for everyone, the census will be used for everyone," he added.

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See also:

30 Apr 01 | Northern Ireland
Census forms to be returned
10 Mar 01 | Entertainment
Census data stranger than fiction
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