ONS Census 2021 Output Geography Policy, products and services

Closed 18 Dec 2020

Opened 5 Nov 2020

Feedback updated 12 Mar 2021

We asked

The Office for National Statistics (ONS) invited views on our proposed Census 2021 Output Geography Policy, and our plans for geography products and services. The consultation took place from 5 November 2020 to 18 December 2020.

The policy largely focuses on our maintenance plans for small area geographies – Output Areas (OAs), Lower Layer Super Output Areas (LSOAs) and Middle Layer Super Output Areas (MSOAs). We provided detail for each of the proposed publicly available geography products and services, including digital boundaries, look-up files and statistical products.

We consulted with users to:

  • obtain feedback on all aspects of Census 2021 Output Geography Policy
  • specifically understand whether they supported our recommendation for a refinement to the OA best-fit approach for producing ward and parish census statistics
  • provide a detailed list of the geography products we intend to make available
  • understand any user interest in a comparable UK small area geography

You said

We received 132 responses to the consultation. Of these, 69 respondents (52%) answered on behalf of an organisation and 63 respondents (48%) answered as an individual.

All respondents stated the sector in which they worked, with a small number stating two or more sectors (which accounts for the differences in totals). There were 20 respondents (14%) who did not work in a sector listed, who were most typically retired.

Overall, 84% of users supported our recommendation set out in the consultation. We recommend continuing to publish ward and parish outputs using an OA best-fit approach, with additional alignment of some OA boundaries to wards and parish boundaries.

Users also told us that:

  • they generally support our intention to keep the Census 2021 Output Geography Policy relatively unchanged from the existing policy
  • they recognised the need to maintain a balance between updating statistical geographies to reflect change and preserve comparability with historical data
  • they had concerns that realignment of OAs to ward boundaries could be quickly undone if these ward boundaries were to undergo further change in the future  
  • clear supporting information was vital to inform users of any boundary changes
  • they support our proposed publicly available products and provided detail of additional products that would help their work
  • they partly support a comparable UK small area geography – around half voiced their support, with the remainder not having a specific requirement

We did

We intend to:

  • proceed with our proposed Census 2021 Output Geography Policy
  • implement our recommendation for a refinement to the OA best-fit approach for producing ward and parish census statistics
  • consider boundary changes and reflect the geographies in place at the time of the release of census outputs
  • consider what supporting information we can produce to inform users of boundary changes
  • keep users informed about plans to release census outputs for 1 km grid squares
  • produce OA, LSOA and MSOA look-up files to assist users in identifying if current geographies are comparable from 2011 to 2021
  • consider any additional requirements mentioned by users  
  • discuss options for producing a comparable UK small area geography for Scotland and Northern Ireland with the devolved administrations

Results updated 12 Mar 2021

The below document captures the full breadth of responses we received in relation to this consultation, as well as our suggested actions resulting from them.



As Census 2021 is approaching, ONS is finalising plans for the dissemination of Census statistics and have a proposed Census geography policy. This geography policy focusses largely on our plans for maintaining small area geographies - Output Areas, Lower Layer Super Output Areas, and Middle Layer Super Output Areas. We are also setting out plans for producing geography products and services. We would like to give census users an opportunity to comment on our plans through this consultation exercise.


Why your views matter

We are planning to produce a range of geography products and services to support the dissemination of Census statistics. The proposed Census output geography policy, and our plans for geography products and services are set out in the accompanying consultation document (below) for which user views and comments are welcomed as this will help us to finalise our thinking and plans.

As part of the Census geography policy, the consultation document sets out several options for producing outputs for wards and parishes which we have considered, to see if quality improvements to Census statistics for wards and parishes can be made. We are now recommending a refinement to the Output Area Best-Fit approach for producing ward and parish Census statistics for which user views and comments are welcomed. 

Please note that this consultation covers Census plans for England and Wales only, though as part of this consultation we are also interested in any user requirements for the creation of a comparable small area geography work across the whole of the UK for Census dissemination.

Thank you for your interest in this consultation exercise, your views are important to us. ONS shall be publishing a response document when the consultation closes to summarise the responses received.

We encourage you to respond online. However, responses by email will also be accepted.

Should you wish to provide your comments by email, the consultation document at the bottom of the page includes a list of the consultation questions.

If you are responding by email, please send your response to: ons.geography@ons.gov.uk


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