1. ONS and Statistics

What is the Office for National Statistics (ONS)?

ONS is the executive office of the UK Statistics Authority. It is the UK's largest independent producer of official statistics and the recognised national statistical institute of the UK. Familiar economic statistics produced by ONS are the Retail Sales Index, Gross Domestic Product and the UK Balance of Payments. It also provides a wide variety of social statistics including crime, migration and demography, as well as conducting the ten-yearly population census for England and Wales.

How many business surveys does ONS conduct?

ONS conducts around 80 different surveys of business and local authorities in the UK, issuing around 1.7 million questionnaires to about 290,000 businesses out of a total of around 2 million.

It also conducts a number of other business surveys in conjunction with other government departments such as the Department of Business, Energy and Industrial Strategy.

Who uses the data produced?

The data collected from these surveys is imperative for the Government, the Treasury, financial institutions and other external forecasters. It informs policy-making decisions, helps to monitor the economy and is a primary measure of inflation.

The data are also used by businesses, universities, the media and the general public to monitor the Government's performance and gain a better understanding of the UK economy.

What are the benefits of statistics?

Statistics play a major role in monitoring the UK economy and setting interest rates. From a business perspective they provide a vital source of information for identifying trends in the market, as a benchmark for company performance and as a guide to market developments.

Back to table of contents

2. Selection for ONS Surveys

How was my business selected?

Businesses are selected from the ONS's Inter Departmental Business Register (IDBR), which is a comprehensive list of businesses in the UK registered for VAT or PAYE.

Selection depends on several factors, for example, the number of people employed, how many other businesses are operating in the same industry and the size of those businesses. Generally, large businesses will always be included in a survey sample because the information they provide can be quite significant. We select a number of medium and smaller businesses (usually on a rotational basis) because they perform differently, giving more balance and integrity to our results.

What does ONS consider to be a large or small business?

As a general rule:

Large businesses - 100 employment or more

Medium businesses - 11 - 99 employment

Small businesses - fewer than 10 employment

What is the difference between employment and employees?

Employment is the number of employees and working proprietors.

Employees are the number of people employed by the business.

My business employs fewer than ten people - will I get selected?

Yes. Trading patterns in micro businesses can vary greatly from large businesses. Collecting their data means we achieve comprehensive and meaningful statistics which are representative of an industry.

How many businesses are in each survey sample?

This varies from survey to survey. ONS sets the size of each survey sample at the minimum level needed to produce representative and accurate results for the Government and other users.

How long will I have to complete the survey?

ONS cannot give a definitive period of selection for any of its business surveys as this depends on a number of factors:

  • the number of businesses available in each size-band

  • changes to employment levels within individual businesses

  • how many cease to trade and how many new businesses are generated

Some indications about selection periods for individual surveys can be found in the A to Z of ONS business surveys

Why has my business been selected for more than one survey?

ONS business surveys are conducted independently of each other, therefore it is possible for a business to be selected for more than one survey at a time.

Is ONS's selection process fair?

Yes. ONS sampling procedures are based on the principle that, over time, firms of a similar size and within the same industry have the same probability of being selected.

Back to table of contents

3. Completing your survey

Will my data be kept confidential?

Yes. Your data will be treated in strict confidence in line with the provisions of section 39 of the Statistics and Registration Services Act 2007 and the National Statistics Code of Practice. It is an offence for the ONS to disclose any details relating to a business or individual. Your businesses data will never be identifiable in the statistics we produce.

What about the Data Protection Act?

Although the Data Protection Act (DPA) protects the rights of individuals by ensuring that their personal information is not compromised in any way, it recognises that the sharing of personal information is often desirable, or necessary, and sets out the conditions under which this can happen.

Why can't you get the data you need from my VAT returns?

ONS is continuing to explore the possibility of obtaining data from administrative sources, such as Companies House and HM Revenue and Customs (HMRC). Current information supplied to these departments is neither timely, nor detailed enough, to readily substitute for ONS business surveys which have to produce high quality results very quickly.

Can I provide estimates?

Yes. We do not expect you to go to any great expense or spend an inordinate amount of time obtaining the information required. Informed estimates are sufficient for our needs since we are measuring changes in the economy using data aggregated from the information received from all businesses within that survey sample.

What if I don't have any data to report?

Reporting a genuine zero return is as valid as any other figure as we are measuring business trends.

My business is in administration/receivership - do I still need to complete the questionnaire?

Ideally yes. Businesses in administration/receivership can still trade. If you are unable to supply the information it would be helpful if you could inform us of the name and address of the Administrator/Receiver.

We are a local authority - should we be receiving these surveys?

Yes. Under Section 17 of the Statistics of Trade Act 1947, a local authority is classed as a legal undertaking which means you required to complete ONS business survey questionnaires.

We are a charitable organisation/church - should we be receiving these surveys?

Yes. Under Section 17 of the Statistics of Trade Act 1947, a charitable organisation/church is classed as a legal undertaking which means you are required to complete ONS business survey questionnaires.

Can I send my data in via Email?

No. ONS policy is to maintain the confidentiality of all data and Emails are not always a secure form of communication. At present, using Email runs the risk of interception by third parties. However, we are considering other 'data collection' methods, for example Secure Electronic File Transfer (SEFT).

Can I complete the survey online?

Not at the moment, however ONS is currently undertaking a project to develop a system for Electronic Data Collection.

Why have I received a reminder when I have already returned my questionnaire/data?

Reminders are created automatically at a certain point (usually the day after the return by date). If a business returns a questionnaire very near to the return by date it means that the reminder and completed questionnaire can 'cross in the post'.

Using automated reminders is the most efficient way for ONS to remind a business to return their questionnaire given the number of business surveys we currently process.

Why are the return dates so early?

For some surveys the timetable for producing data is very short in order to give an early indication of what is happening in the economy.

Why does ONS still expect businesses to provide data during the current economic climate?

It is essential now more than ever that we get as much data as possible to ensure the Treasury and the Bank of England have the necessary information to monitor the economy.

What is ONS doing to reduce the impact of its surveys on businesses?

ONS is committed to reducing the impact through a number of initiatives:

  • investigating data sharing with other government departments in order to reduce survey activity

  • consulting with the organisations that represent small businesses through the National Statistics Small Business Forum which provides the opportunity for business representatives to discuss issues of concern regarding ONS

  • regularly reviewing all surveys to ensure that they are still required and if so, that the demand they place on you is kept to the minimum necessary to maintain the quality of its outputs

Back to table of contents

4. Do I need to complete the survey?

What authority does ONS have to conduct its business surveys?

Most ONS business surveys are conducted under Section 1 of the Statistics of Trade Act 1947, so your business is required by law to provide the information requested.

Can I be exempt from completing the survey questionnaire?

No. Once selected a business is legally obliged to complete the survey because it is conducted under the provisions of the Statistics of Trade Act 1947

Is there an appeal process?

No. There is no appeal process, nor can you be exempt from selection for ONS business surveys. However, if you think that there are circumstances that we need to be aware of, please contact us as soon as possible.

What will happen if I do not complete the questionnaire?

Failure to comply could lead to prosecution at a Magistrates Court with a fine up to a maximum of £2,500 (last up dated by section 17 of the Criminal Justice Act 1991). If this happens you will still need to complete the questionnaire.

Will I get paid for completing an ONS business survey?

No. Although ONS appreciated the time and effort you take to complete our surveys, it is unable to offer payment as completing the survey is a legal duty and not a service.

Will I be fined if I return my questionnaire late?

No. However, ONS does encourage businesses to return data as soon as possible to ensure the results produced are accurate.

What will happen if I provide false data?

Ultimately, ONS must rely on the integrity of its respondents to supply reliable information but to knowingly provide false information [or to provide it recklessly] is an offence under the Section 4 of the Statistics of Trade Act 1947 which can result in legal action. On conviction, penalties incurred can vary from a maximum of £4,000 and /or three months imprisonment, to an unlimited fine and two years imprisonment.

How will you know whether the data I provide is false?

For most of our surveys we have various validation checks built into the processing systems which identify any “atypical” values entered in response to a particular question. Any anomalies are queried with businesses and they are either corrected, or a note is made to explain why the anomaly has arisen.

Back to table of contents

5. General survey information

What is the difference between 'survey' and 'questionnaire'?

For ONS purposes:

  • Survey is a method used to collect information from a sample of individuals/businesses

  • Questionnaire is the research instrument/document which gathers information.

Why is my data important?

The only way to properly measure the economy is to ask those people who generate revenue. Therefore as a business, the information you provide is important.

Can I give ONS feedback on the design of its questionnaires?

Yes. We appreciate the time you take to complete our questionnaires. If there is anything which you find confusing or difficult we would like to know. Please email our Respondent Feedback Team

Back to table of contents

6. Contact us

What if I wish to make a complaint?

Please write to:
Respondent Feedback Team
Office for National Statistics
Cardiff Road
NP10 8XG.

What if I need further help and information?

If you need help with a particular business survey, please call our Respondent Relations Team. You will find the contact number on the front of your questionnaire or in the survey contact list below, (Please be aware that calls may be recorded for quality and training purposes).

Alternatively you can provide feedback by contacting the Respondent Feedback Team.

However, if you require assistance in navigating the websites or need assistance in finding a particular publication, please contact our Customer Contact Centre on 0845 601 3034 (email: info@statistics.gsi.gov.uk).

How do I change the contact within my business ?

You can provide the new details in one of the following ways:

in the red box on the front of your survey questionnaire which you will find alongside the current address details

or, telephone our Respondent Relations Team using either the telephone number which appears on the front of your survey questionnaire or the number identified in the list below

How can I get a duplicate copy of the questionnaire?

If you have misplaced your questionnaire you can contact Respondent Relations on the number below which corresponds with the survey questionnaire you require.

Back to table of contents