The 2021 Census is coming, make sure you can take part on March 21st

The 2021 Census will take place on 21st March and for the first time will be mainly digital, with paper forms available on request. Freephone helplines will open from 1st March, with all minority languages catered for.

The Office for National Statistics (ONS), which runs the Census in England and Wales, will be posting letters to every residential address with a unique access code to complete the Census and information about how to get a paper form. If you live on a mooring with its own postal address, you will get one of these letters.

This time, Bargee Travellers are being encouraged to take part and should find it easier than it was in 2011. Census staff will be delivering letters with access codes and further information to boats on the towpath in many areas, as well as to boats on moorings that don’t have a postal address.

If you don’t receive one of these by 23rd March, you can ring the helpline to get a paper form or an access code texted to you to take part. You don’t need an address to complete the Census. If the location of your boat has no registered address, the Census asks you to “describe your whereabouts as best you can”. You will be asked for a postcode, but you can give any nearby postcode such as a local pub or boatyard. Apart from that, you are free to state your address as “Grand Union Canal, Tring” or similar.


You can complete the Census on a computer, tablet or smartphone. There will also be local census support centres for those who aren’t confident online, who don’t have a computer or need help completing the paper form. There will be online support, including help by email, social media, text message and on a webchat facility on the Census website

Census helpline numbers from 1st March
UK 0800 141 2021
Wales 0800 169 2021
Census Day is 21st March

The census is a once-in-a-decade survey that gives the most accurate estimate of all the people and households in England and Wales. It has been carried out every decade since 1801, except in 1941.

The Census will include questions about your sex, age, work, health, education, household size and ethnicity. For the first time there will be a tick-box for ‘Roma’ under the White ethnicity category, as well as the existing ‘Gypsy or Irish Traveller’. However, there are no tick-boxes to record your ethnicity as Bargee Traveller, Boater or similar.

We recommend that unless your ethnicity is Roma, Gypsy or Irish Traveller, liveaboard boaters do not tick these boxes, as this will interfere with the accurate counting of the Roma, Gypsy and Irish Traveller communities. There is a free text box where you can record yourself as a Bargee Traveller, Boater etc, and there are other questions that allow you to record your home as a boat.

So why should Bargee Travellers and boat dwellers take part in the Census? It is a vital opportunity for the liveaboard boating community to show how many of us there are and therefore what facilities and funding we may need.

Most important, there are still no accurate figures for the number of people living on boats, and that makes our community and its distinct needs invisible. For example, on most navigation authorities’ waterways there is a complete absence of temporary mooring space available to liveaboards for durations of 14 days to several months.

If the Census records that there are 5,000 boat dwellers in an area, this would support the case for the provision of liveaboard mooring space and planning consent where this is necessary. If we don’t identify ourselves in the Census, local authorities won’t have the data to provide services for our community in the future. Information from the Census is also used to plan public services such as schools, hospitals and transport. If boat dwellers are not counted, planning for public services will not take the needs of our population into account.

The improved accessibility of the Census for the liveaboard community is not entirely a co-incidence: the ONS deputy national statistician, Iain Bell, who is responsible for delivering the Census, is a boater who spends part of his time living on his boat on the Monmouth and Brecon Canal.

It is a legal requirement to complete the Census: if you don’t, you could be fined up to £1,000.

Census helplines from 1st March: UK 0800 141 2021, Wales 0800 169 2021

For more information, see