Census Rehearsal

As part of our preparations for the 2021 Census, NISRA are holding a census rehearsal in October 2019.

What is the rehearsal?

The rehearsal is a smaller-scale version of the main census, taking place in selected areas rather than across all of Northern Ireland.

What you need to do

If you have received a letter inviting you to complete the questionnaire online or a paper questionnaire please complete it. The letter we sent you contains a unique access code you can use to complete the census questionnaire online. You need to enter this code into our secure website and answer the questions. You can do it in one go or save as you go along to come back to it later. Census rehearsal sample letter

Some households, for example, those in areas of poor broadband connectivity, will receive a paper questionnaire through the post to fill in. You can ask for a paper questionnaire to fill in if you need to.

The more people who respond, the more accurate information we’ll have to help us plan for the census in 2021.

Where is the rehearsal taking place?

We have selected 3 areas to take part in the rehearsal:

  • South and East Belfast (7,300 households)
  • Craigavon (7,200 households)
  • West Fermanagh (4,300 households)

Census Rehearsal Areas - Northern Ireland

South and East Belfast

There are two Rehearsal areas in Belfast, providing a test of the census operation in an urban and densely populated location. The area around Queen’s Quarter has features such as a large student population, ethnic minority communities and restricted-access accommodation, which make it difficult to enumerate in a census. Ravenhill, on the other hand, provides a control as it had a high response rate in the 2011 Census.


Craigavon provides a range of conditions as it has both urban and rural areas, a large and small town, a mixture of rented and owned housing and a large population born outside of the United Kingdom or the Republic of Ireland. This will allow NISRA to rehearse its communication and community engagement approaches, and also the census support services for households whose main language is non-English.

West Fermanagh

West Fermanagh is a large, sparsely populated rural area. The speed and availability of broadband services is low compared to many other parts of Northern Ireland, and mobile coverage is also limited. NISRA wants to understand the impact of these factors on people responding to the census online, and also on the operation of the digital devices to be used by field staff.

Why we need to hold a rehearsal

Carrying out a census is a huge task. A full end to end rehearsal is necessary to ensure that all of our processes, systems and services are effective and working as they should before the 2021 Census. The rehearsal will help ensure that all elements of the field operation and supporting public interface services (for example, the online self-help system and contact centre) are fit-for-purpose, and the collected information will be used to assure the performance of key parts of the data processing system developed by NISRA.

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