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2013 Census frequently asked questions

The census was on Tuesday, 5 March 2013. We will release the first results from 2013 Census on 3 December 2013, then progressively release more information over the following 18 months. See 2013 Census products and services release schedule.

Frequently asked questions

What is the census?

The census is the official count of how many people and dwellings there are in New Zealand. It takes a snapshot of the people in New Zealand and the places where we live.

By law, Statistics NZ must hold a census once every five years, and everyone must fill in a form.

More information about the census is available in our general fact sheets and a Powerpoint presentation.

Resources including information in New Zealand Sign Language and our advertising campaign are available on our YouTube account.

Why is it important?

Population information from the census helps determine how billions of dollars of government funding is spent in the community. It is used to make decisions about services such as: 

  • hospitals 
  • schools 
  • roads 
  • public transport 
  • recreational facilities.

Census information is used to decide electorate boundaries. It is also used by councils, community groups and businesses to plan for the future.

How is census data used in the electorate boundary review process?

Census data is used with Māori electoral option data to determine the new number of general and Māori electorates and also to calculate the electoral populations. Using these figures, the Representation Commission will determine the new electorate boundaries.

The new number of general and Māori electorates and the 2013 electoral populations will be published on 7 October 2013.

Māori electoral option

The Māori electoral option is administered by the Electoral Commission and gives people in New Zealand who are of Māori descent the opportunity to choose whether they want to be on the Māori electoral roll or the general electoral roll when they vote in the next two general elections.

The option takes place from 25 March to 24 July 2013. 

How does Statistics NZ decide which questions to ask?

Several topics must, by law, be included in the New Zealand Census of Population and Dwellings. Under the Statistics Act 1975 we are required to ask every person in New Zealand on census day for their: 

  • name and address 
  • sex 
  • age 
  • ethnicity.

For every occupied dwelling in New Zealand on census day we must ask for that dwelling's: 

  • location 
  • number of rooms 
  • ownership 
  • number of occupants on census night.

We collect information about Māori descent and the usual residence of all people living in New Zealand to help determine electorate boundaries (required under the Electoral Act 1993).

We include other topics because they produce information of significant value to New Zealand. We also have to consider other factors when deciding what questions we ask, such as: 

  • whether the census is the most appropriate method of collecting the information 
  • cost of collecting the data 
  • quality of the data produced 
  • public acceptability 
  • burden on the New Zealand public 
  • continuity with previous censuses.

Statistics NZ consults widely with the public about the questions asked in the census.

Is the census compulsory?

Yes. Filling in census forms is required by law. Under the Statistics Act 1975, everyone in New Zealand on census day must fill in a census form.

What if I refuse to take part in a census?

Filling in census forms is required by law. Under the Statistics Act 1975, everyone in New Zealand on census day must fill in a census form. You could be fined if you don't participate or if you provide false or incomplete information.

If legal action becomes necessary, the fine is up to $500, with a further $20 a day for each day after conviction until the person completes the forms.

The accuracy of the census depends on everyone in New Zealand filling in their forms and answering all questions that apply.

Our policy is to encourage you to comply with the law. As a last resort Statistics NZ may prosecute people who actively refuse to fill in their forms or provide false information.

Why can’t you get the information from other government departments?

Other government departments hold administrative records about people. But the census is especially valuable because it provides a new and accurate set of information every five years, about every part of the country, down to small geographic areas.

Statistics NZ is investigating alternative ways of meeting information needs for social and population statistics. Read information papers about future approaches to social and population statistics.


How does Statistics New Zealand keep the information I provide confidential?

The information you provide is protected by the Statistics Act 1975 and must be kept confidential by Statistics NZ.

Census information can only be used for statistical purposes and must be reported in a way that cannot identify you.

No other organisation – including the New Zealand Police, Immigration New Zealand, or Inland Revenue – can obtain information from us that identifies you.

The only people who have access to your personal information are those authorised by the Government Statistician. Each of them must sign a declaration of secrecy. They cannot reveal your information to anyone else – if they do, they can be prosecuted.

Statistics NZ keeps census information secure at all times. Forms are stored securely and access to electronic data is strictly controlled via passwords, firewalls, and encryption to prevent unauthorised access.

The Public Records Act 2005 requires that census forms be retained. After 100 years, census forms may be made available for statistical research. This research must be approved by the Government Statistician and meet the confidentiality requirements of the Statistics Act 1975.

Why does Statistics New Zealand ask for personal information?

The personal information collected is used for statistical purposes only.

No question is asked in the census unless the information will benefit a wide section of the population. For example, ethnicity information is used to measure educational needs and achievements of ethnic groups. And personal income information is used to establish decile ratings for schools receiving government funding.

Statistics NZ acknowledges the private and personal nature of the answers you supply, and places great emphasis on keeping your answers confidential.

Collecting information for statistical purposes is permitted under the Privacy Act 1993.

Can other government agencies see the answers I provide?

No. No other government agency – including the New Zealand Police, Immigration New Zealand, or Inland Revenue – can obtain census information that identifies you.

By law, Statistics NZ cannot release or publish any information that identifies individuals.

Privacy, security, and confidentiality of information supplied to Statistics New Zealand

Find out how Statistics NZ ensures the privacy, security, and confidentiality of information we collect from individuals, households, and businesses. This includes how we use, store and distribute our information.

Extra help in Canterbury

Read more about extra help that was provided for people doing the census in Canterbury.

What happens after the census?

Census results will be released progressively from 3 December 2013.

We use census reponses to select people for three surveys after the census.

Post-enumeration survey 

The Post-enumeration Survey took place in April and May 2013. It is used to check the accuracy of the Census of Population and Dwellings. Census statistics need to be accurate because they are used to plan essential community services such as education, health, housing, and transport.

Find out more about the Post-enumeration Survey.

Te Kupenga

Te Kupenga – a survey of Māori wellbeing – began in June 2013 and involved face-to-face interviews with about 5,000 people. This survey was previously known as the Māori Social Survey.

Find out more about Te Kupenga.

Household Disability Survey

The Household Disability Survey is planned to begin in July 2013 and will involve telephone and face-to-face interviews with about 20,000 people.

Find out more about the Household Disability Survey.


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