1001.0 - Annual Report - ABS Annual Report, 2005-06  
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Contents >> Section 5 - Performance Information >> Chapter 10 - Provider/respondent relationships

Chapter 10 - Provider/respondent relationships

INTRODUCTION

The work of the ABS would not be possible without the continuing cooperation of those in business, householders and others who provide the data that form the basis of the statistics produced. The ABS works hard to secure the trust and confidence of data providers, without which the provision of a quality statistical service would be jeopardised. The ABS continues its endeavours to reduce the burden placed on data providers by expanding the use of administrative data.

ABS SERVICE CHARTERS

The ABS recognises its obligation to respondents in statistical collections, and has produced service charters relating to both business surveys and household surveys.

The Business Surveys Charter sets out the relationship between the ABS and businesses, which provide it with information for statistical purposes. The charter explains how businesses can seek help from the ABS. The charter also specifies how businesses can ask for a review of the handling of their complaint.

The charter was developed in consultation with representatives of small business and is reviewed annually. The charter is provided to new respondents in collections involving businesses, and is also available on the ABS web site. It is produced in English, Mandarin, Vietnamese, Greek and Arabic.

The Household Surveys Charter, newly produced in 2005–06, sets out the relationship between the ABS and members of the public who provide it with information for statistical purposes about themselves and their household. The charter explains what people can expect when dealing with the ABS and ABS interviewers. The charter includes information about the way that household surveys are conducted, the way that complaints are handled, and invites comments and other feedback. The charter is available on the website and it will be produced in a number of different languages during 2006–07.

The ABS also has a Client Service Charter, which describes the relationship between the ABS and users of its products and services. More information on this charter can be found in the chapter on dissemination of statistics.

All of these charters include performance standards for the relationships between the ABS and its clients, and its service delivery. Performance against these standards is the subject of ongoing review, as are the charters themselves.

CONFIDENTIALITY OF DATA

The ABS would not be able to operate effectively without the trust and confidence of data providers. The legal requirement not to divulge identifiable information, and the strong confidentiality and security ethos which permeates the attitudes of ABS staff, are the most important elements of the ABS security system. It is reinforced by a range of measures relating to the perimeter security of all offices, the security measures protecting the computing environment from any external access, and the security measures implemented for individual data holdings.

The Census and Statistics Act 1905 obliges ABS staff to maintain the secrecy and security of all data reported to, and held by, the ABS. Staff sign an undertaking of fidelity and secrecy under the terms of the legislation. The personal responsibility of all staff is a crucial element of ABS culture. It is the foundation upon which the security of ABS data holdings is built.

The ABS has an enviable reputation for the preservation of the secrecy of reported information, and for the protection of its statistical data holdings from unauthorised release.

In 2005–06, the ABS released a statement on the ABS web site outlining the importance of confidentiality of data provided, and how the ABS protects the confidentiality of data (Survey Participant Information – How the ABS Keeps Your Information Confidential).

PROVIDER LOAD

In order to fulfil its mission of providing information to support discussion, debate and decision making, the ABS is required and empowered to collect information from businesses and households. At the same time, the ABS is conscious that the needs of users for information must be balanced against the extent of requests for information from businesses and households. The amount of time (totalled for all collections and all respondents) needed to complete ABS surveys is referred to as 'provider load'.

The ABS endeavours to minimise the provider load by promoting efficiency and effectiveness of ABS operations and the ABS survey program. This means that information is not requested unless the collection is of high priority for the national statistical program. It also means that forms are well designed and thoroughly tested, so that they are as easy to complete as possible. In relation to business surveys, there is close liaison with representative groups, both in relation to the survey program and the demands on businesses.

PROVIDER LOAD IN BUSINESS SURVEYS

Following the recommendations of the Australian Government's 1996 Small Business Deregulation Task Force (which found that the ABS only accounted for about 1% of total business compliance costs), the total ABS provider load on businesses has been substantially reduced.

More recently, the ABS has been involved in the Government's Taskforce on Reducing the Regulatory Burden on Business, and the response to the recommendations. The taskforce report did not have any recommendations specific to the ABS, and acknowledged the value of the ABS' role as a clearing house for Australian Government surveys (for more information about the Statistical Clearing House, see chapter 11). The report also recommended that the Business Activity Statement adopt ABS forms design standards for explanatory notes attached to data items.

As can be seen in the Graph 10.1 below, the average total load on all businesses during the past five years has been around 440,000 hours/year, or 32% lower than for 1995–96. For small businesses, the average total load during the past five years has been around 187,000 hours/year, or 42% lower than in 1995-96. These decreases in total load have occurred at the same time as the number of businesses has been increasing.

Graph 10.1 shows the unadjusted provider load (measured in thousands of hours taken to complete statistical forms) imposed on businesses by the ABS for 1996–97 through to 2005–06.


GRAPH 10.1: UNADJUSTED PROVIDER LOAD IMPOSED ON BUSINESS BY THE ABS

Graph 10.1: Unadjusted provider load imposed on business by the ABS

(a) Defined as businesses with less than 20 employees or a derived estimate of employees of less than 20.
(b) Higher provider load estimates for 2001–02 reflect the conduct of the five-yearly Agricultural Census.

The increase in provider load partly reflects a number of collections conducted in 2005–06 that were not conducted in 2004–05. For example, the Survey of Employee Earnings and Hours (with a load of around 15,000 hours), is run every two years, and was conducted in 2005–06. Another factor in the increase in 2005–06, particularly for small businesses, was the expansion in the scope of the collection for the Survey of Tourist Accommodation (contributing a load of around 20,000 hours). This expansion involved the inclusion of smaller accommodation establishments, and was funded by the Australian Government Department of Industry, Tourism and Resources.

Provider load figures from 1996–97 to 2005–06 were smoothed using an 11-term Henderson moving average to reveal the underlying direction. This smooths for the effect of irregular and regular contributors to provider load, such as the 5-yearly Agricultural Census. Since 1999–00, the smoothed provider load estimates appear to have remained stable for businesses of all sizes (Graph 10.2).

GRAPH 10.2: SMOOTHED PROVIDER LOAD IMPOSED ON BUSINESS BY THE ABS

Graph 10.2: Smoothed provider load imposed on business by the ABS

(a) Defined as businesses with less than 20 employees or a derived estimate of employees of less than 20.

PROVIDER LOAD IN HOUSEHOLD SURVEYS

Table 10.1 shows household provider load over the last 4 years. The household survey program varies considerably from year to year, with many major surveys on 3-to 6-yearly cycles. In general, there is pressure to expand the household survey program to meet the need for information about the population. However, this will need to be balanced with the load on providers. In particular, some valuable surveys are very time consuming for households to complete, for example, the Time Use Survey and Household Expenditure Survey. Although the overall load is tending to increase, the ABS designs household survey samples to ensure dwellings are not selected in more than one of these surveys. For example, the dwellings selected in the Time Use Survey are different to those selected in the National Health Survey.

The ABS is taking steps to reduce provider load on households and individuals where it can. One significant initiative in this respect has been the move to a biennial Survey of Income and Housing Costs. The survey, previously conducted annually, will have a larger sample size of 11,000 households, an increase of 4,000 households, but the total respondent burden over a two year period will decrease substantially.

One area of particular concern is the load placed on Indigenous Australian communities for statistical information. It is much larger than for the general community. ABS surveys play a part but there are many non-ABS surveys as well. There is a need for better coordination of all surveys. In recognition of the increased load, the ABS is putting more effort into feeding statistical information back to communities for their own use.

The ABS took part in an Australian National Audit Office (ANAO) Cross Portfolio Performance Audit on Forms for Individual Service Delivery. The final report was tabled in January 2006. The ANAO looked at the ABS' use of forms for the Census of Population and Housing as a benchmark for comparison with the forms used by three human services agencies. Part of the audit process was to assess the perceived usability and comprehensibility of selected forms, and the general perception of participants was the form used, the Major Test for the 2006 Census, was easy to complete.

TABLE 10.1: HOUSEHOLD PROVIDER LOAD (APPROXIMATE FINANCIAL YEAR DATA)

YearSurvey
Achieved Interview Time (mins)
Total Fully Responding Households
Total Provider Load (Household Hours)

2002/03Monthly Population Survey (MPS) (a)
6.8
369,690
41,898
National Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Social Survey (NATSISS) – Non-Community
53.8
4,621
4,143
NATSISS – Community
62.4
738
768
Total
375,049
46,809

2003/04MPS (b)
6.7
363,592
40,601
Survey of Disability, Ageing and Carers
43.4
14,323
10,360
Household Expenditure Survey (HES)
111.6
6,957
12,940
Survey of Income and Housing (supplementary sample to HES)
50.7
4,404
3,721
Total
389,276
67,623

2004/05MPS (b)
7.0
363,018
42,352
Multi-Purpose Household Survey
8.5
14,522
2,057
(MPHS) National Health Survey
40.0
19,502
13,001
National Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Health Survey (NATSIHS) (Non-Remote)
57.8
3,325
3,203
NATSIHS (Remote)
not available
1,319
not available
Total (c)
400,367
60,614

2005/06MPS
6.3
367,705
38,609
MPHS
10.6
14,234
2,514
General Social Survey
45.3
13,404
10,120
Personal Safety Survey
27.9
16,430
7,640
Survey of Education and Training
36.3
13,857
8,383
Survey of Income and Housing
39.6
10,158
6,704
Total
435,788
73,970

(a) MPS in 2002–03 included the Survey of Income and Housing for January to June 2003 inclusive
(b) Full Computer Assisted Interviewing (CAI) implementation for MPS occurred in August 2004, January to July figures include paper and pen interviewing and CAI combined average
(c) Excluding NATSIHS (Remote) as interview time data not available

RESPONSE RATES

The ABS has consistently had very high response rates for both household and business surveys. International benchmarking studies have shown these response rates compare favourably with other international statistical organisations.

Since response rates vary little over time, especially for sub-annual surveys, it is more appropriate to report against target response rates than changes in the rates from year to year. Table 10.2 shows that response rates for selected economic collections either achieve or exceed the target response rates set by the ABS.

It is important to note that, in regard to business surveys, follow up procedures tend to focus on the more significant businesses, that is, those with typically high sales or employment relative to the rest of the industry. For example, the response rate for businesses in the manufacturing survey might be 92 per cent, but the businesses that have responded may comprise 96 per cent of the total employment in the industry.

TABLE 10.2: RESPONSE RATES FOR SELECTED BUSINESS SURVEYS

Target response rate (%)
Response rate 2004/05 (%) (a)
Response rate 2005/06 (%) (a)

Business surveys
Retail Business Survey
96
96
97
Economic Activity Survey
86
92
91
Quarterly Business Indicators Survey
85
90
91
Manufacturing Survey
90
92
90
Survey of Tourist Accommodation
90
91
93
Agricultural Survey
80
86
90
Survey of International Trade in Services
90
94
93
Survey of Research and Experimental Development -Businesses
90
86
94
Household surveys
Labour Force Survey
97
96
96
Survey of Education and Training
90
(b) 79
87
Personal Safety Survey (c)
78
(d) 77
72
General Social Survey
89
(e) 91
86
Survey of Income and Housing
85
(f) 86
83
Multipurpose Household Survey (g)
87
86
88

(a) Average response rates over the year for sub annual surveys. Response rates apply to the year in which the data is collected.
(b) A comparable previous survey is the Survey of Education and Training and Information Technology, which was conducted in 2001
(c) Results for the Personal Safety Survey are expected to be released in July 2006
(d) A comparable previous survey is the Women's Safety Survey, which was conducted in 1996
(e) The previous General Social Survey was conducted in 2002
(f) The previous Survey of Income and Housing was conducted in 2003-04
(g) The results for the Multipurpose Household Survey are used in several ABS publications. The survey is enumerated monthly and the response rates are a simple average.

The Labour Force Survey response rate, shown in table 10.2, is an average of the monthly response rates available throughout 2005–06, and is lower than the target response rate owing primarily to the introduction of Computer Assisted Interviewing (CAI). Analysis of response rates indicates that CAI response rates have remained lower than those achieved in the previous environment. The ABS is reviewing procedures and processes to improve the rate.

COMPLAINTS FROM PROVIDERS/RESPONDENTS

Each year over 200,000 businesses and around 400,000 households are selected in ABS surveys. Households or businesses who have complaints about being selected in a survey, or about the processes involved, have a number of avenues for complaint. Contact numbers are provided with all survey information (preliminary approach letters and brochures for household surveys; survey forms for business surveys). Many respondents call these numbers and discuss any concerns with ABS officers involved in the surveys.

There are also more formal avenues for complaint, including writing or emailing ABS management, writing to the ABS Complaints Review Officer, approaching a parliamentarian, or contacting the Commonwealth Ombudsman. Information about the first two avenues are shown in the table below.

TABLE 10.3: WRITTEN COMPLAINTS FROM RESPONDENTS IN ABS SURVEYS

2001–02
2002–03
2003–04
2004–05
2005–06

Complaints to the ABS survey areas
Business surveys
550
427
397
300
360
Letters to politicians (ministerial correspondence)
Household surveys
6
8
10
15
14
Business surveys
16
20
6
7
9


In relation to household surveys, the number of ministerials received was around the same level as in 2004–05. In addition, in 2005–06, two complaints about participation in household surveys were made to the ABS Complaints Review Officer, and two complaints were made through the Commonwealth Ombudsman's office.

As household surveys are conducted by interviewers, either by phone or in person, most questions and complaints are dealt with directly and informally by survey staff, and do not result in formal written complaints.

ABS business surveys predominately rely on forms to be mailed to the ABS, and the number of written complaints is much higher than for household surveys. In 2005–06, a total of 360 businesses wrote to the ABS complaining about provider issues. This was slightly up from the complaints received by the ABS in the previous year, but lower than previous years. Every complaint is responded to either in writing or by telephone by the ABS and, as provided for in the ABS Business Surveys Charter, if the complainant is not happy with the response they can take the matter to the Complaints Review Officer. During 2005–06, there were no complaints made about business surveys to the ABS Complaints Review Officer, and there were none referred through the Ombudsman's office.

NOTICES OF DIRECTION AND PROSECUTION ACTIONS

Under sections 10(4) and 11(2) of the Census and Statistics Act 1905, the Australian Statistician may, by notice in writing, direct a person to complete a form or answer a question. Under section 14 of the Census and Statistics Act 1905, a person commits an offence if they fail to comply with a notice of direction. The penalty for this is set at one penalty unit ($110 in 2005–06) in respect of each day until the person complies with the direction – although, the application of this penalty is at the discretion of the Court.

These provisions are used sparingly, as the ABS prefers to seek the willing cooperation of respondents. However, it is sometimes necessary to use the legislative provisions, to ensure that the high response rates and the high quality data are maintained.

The number of notices of direction issued and the number of prosecution actions approved in recent years are shown in Table 10.4.

The number of notices of direction issued in 2005–06 continued to be low, reflecting the high levels of cooperation from providers. However, the introduction of new procedures for issuing notices of direction in 2005–06, and a review of processes in the Provider Contact Unit for business surveys led to an increase in the number of notices of direction issued in 2005–06. One prosecution action was approved in June 2006.

Note that the number of notices of direction and prosecution actions approved is higher every five years when the Census of Population and Housing is conducted. It can be expected that there will be a substantial increase again in 2006–07.

TABLE 10.4: NOTICES OF DIRECTION ISSUED AND PROSECUTION ACTIONS APPROVED

2001–02
2002–03
2003–04
2004–05
2005–06

Notices of direction issued
Census of Population and Housing
595
-
-
-
-
Household surveys
13
1
-
1
8
Business censuses and surveys
21
23
1
-
4
Total
629
24
1
1
12
Prosecution actions approved (a)
Census of Population and Housing
104
-
-
-
-
Household surveys
2
-
-
-
-
Business censuses and surveys
-
1
-
-
1
Total
106
1
-
-
1


(a) Approved by the Australian Statistician for referral to the relevant office of the Director of Public Prosecutions. Any particular prosecution approval may pertain to a number of notices of direction. Each prosecution action approval is counted in the year in which the corresponding notices of direction are issued. Not every prosecution action approved proceeds to court.

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