Census privacy: requesting an individual form

Australians will have more freedom to express their religious or non-religious identity at next month’s census, with the availability of an individual form empowering people to complete the ‘religion question’ privately and confidentially.

For the first time, the Australian Bureau of Statistics (ABS) is being more explicit about the ability of individuals to choose an individual form at the August census, instead of having their answers recorded on a household form.

In past censuses, although not widely known, it was possible for people in group or share-households to complete their own individual form, independently of their house-mates.

Despite a relatively small number of people making this choice, it required a substantial amount of manual processing to ensure the answers were correctly recorded.

Now, the ABS acknowledges the need to accommodate a growing number of individuals who want to express their own religious beliefs – or, indeed, information on other topics like their sex or their income. And it is now intended to include people who may in live in family households

An individual’s religious beliefs may be at odds with their parents or their partner who traditionally answered the religion question on their behalf, using the household form.

In recognising this trend, the ABS has redesigned its processes to be more inclusive and to produce more accurate data.

This will make it possible for people within conservative religious households who lack power, and who fear identifying with a choice that differs from their family, to be able to answer the religious honestly.

Michael Dove, leader of the Census21 – Not Religious? Mark ‘No Religion’ campaign, welcomed the more explicit promotion of the individual form.

He said the initiative would increase inclusiveness and help to produce more accurate census data.

“Every Australian must have the freedom to choose their religion or to choose not to be religious. It is a fundamental right,” he said.

“Sadly, we know that there are many conservative religious households where the head of the household, which is often the adult male, will complete the census form for all members of the household.

“As a result, people who lack power within such households, including women and youth, don’t get the opportunity to have their real religious or non-religious identity recorded accurately in the national census.”

Under the ABS’s privacy and security provisions, any member of a household, including a visitor, can ask for their own individual login number for the online form. All they need is a mobile phone to assist verification.

Similarly, for those that prefer, an individual paper form and envelope can be requested. To preserve the confidentiality of such a choice, the individual paper form can be delivered to any nominated postal address, or collected from a census hub.

The self-completed individual form will take precedence over a record for the same individual submitted on their behalf by the household reference person – provided the form contains at least the same completed questions.

“When the ABS receives multiple records from the same household, they are merged. Any duplicates for an individual person are identified. An individually completed form needs to have at least the same amount of information as the information submitted on behalf of that individual on the household/dwelling form,” said Michael.

For more information about how to access and complete the individual form, go to: