Re-imagining Household Income, Housing, Wealth and Expenditure Data

In July 2021, the ABS started work to look at how we could deliver more frequent and insightful data on the economic circumstances of households. Our work is focused on:

  • re-designing the Household Expenditure Survey (HES) and the Survey of Income and Housing (SIH) to deliver better quality data and to make it easier for households to complete the surveys
  • making more use of administrative data to deliver insights and to reduce the number of questions we ask in our surveys
  • exploring the use of alternative big data sources, such as bank data.

Modernising ways to collect data from Australian households and making better use of existing data sources are organisational priorities for the ABS. The re-imagining project is helping deliver these priorities.

Survey re-design

The focus of survey re-design includes:

  • prioritising a digital-first approach
  • improving question flow and sequencing
  • sample design to maximise coverage across populations
  • making it easier for respondents to complete the survey
  • identifying where alternative data sources can replace questions.

While we have been looking to improve how we collect and release SIH and HES data, the fundamental goal remains the same; continuing to support primary uses of this data, including:

  • supporting the compilation of key economic indicators including the National Accounts, Consumer Prince Index (CPI) and Pensioner and Beneficiary Living Cost Index (PBLCI)
  • modelling the effects of taxation and income support systems on the cost of living and wellbeing for people and households
  • understanding the distribution of economic resources among private households
  • analysing the households most at risk of experiencing economic hardship.
Survey of Income and Housing

We have completed the re-design of the Survey of Income and Housing and the 2023-24 survey is underway. The re-designed survey includes:

  • a digital first approach that better aligns to the expectations of survey participants
  • an improved questionnaire with a reduced number of questions making it easier for people to accurately respond.

Some data that used to be collected in the survey will be replaced or supplemented with public sector data, including: 

  • government payments
  • childcare
  • superannuation balances
  • student debts.

We have started work to design the 2025-26 survey. We will continue to focus on making it quicker and easier for people to complete the survey by improving what we ask and how much we ask about. We're also improving our processes so that we can reduce the time it takes to publish our findings.

Household expenditure data

The work to improve the collection of household expenditure data is challenging and is taking longer than we first planned. Our new plan is to conduct a Household Expenditure Survey in 2027-28.

Over the course of the re-imagining project to date, we have completed several proofs of concept to explore how we might:

  • reduce the volume of expenditure data we collect directly from households
  • make use of private sector, big data sources
  • underpin survey design with recall questions rather than a diary.

Research findings from this work include:

  • Transactional bank or financial data can't seamlessly replace all detailed expenditure data from surveys without extra information like breakdowns of spending by merchant type.
  • It may be possible to develop a hybrid transactional and survey dataset, producing metrics, by taking advantage of aspects of each source.
  • It's difficult for respondents to remember all of their purchases and that relying solely on respondent recall poses data quality and accuracy concerns.

The pathway to measuring household expenditure remains complex. We will provide further updates on the nature and content of our future household expenditure survey as more details become available.

Administrative and big data developments

Outside of HES and SIH, the ABS has leveraged big data sources to gain new insights into household finances. Some examples are:

Stakeholder engagement

The following publications summarise insights from consultation around this re-imagining project:

In 2022 we undertook a two phased co-design process with users including the Treasury, Reserve Bank of Australia, Australian Council of Social Services, and DSS. Phase 1 of the co-design process sought to capture the critical data requirements of both SIH and HES users. Phase 2 of this process enabled feedback on proposed content, elements of collection design, and planned uses of administrative data. 

In March 2023 we held a webinar updating stakeholders of the status of the re-imagining project.

In September 2023 we wrote to all stakeholders involved in the co-design process, giving an update on the new timings of HES data collection and what to expect next for the re-imagining project.

Keeping up to date

If you are interested in sharing your perspective on this project, please send an email to:

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