Dwelling type (DWTD)

Latest release
Census of Population and Housing: Census dictionary
Reference period


This variable classifies dwellings into the following types:

  • Private dwellings (occupied and unoccupied)
  • Non-private dwellings
  • Migratory, off-shore and shipping areas

A dwelling is a structure which is intended to have people live in it, that is it was established for short-stay or long-stay accommodation.

The definitions for the dwellings that make up the following categories, are described below.


All dwellings


1Occupied private dwellings
2Unoccupied private dwellings
3Non-private dwellings

Number of categories: 6

Category definitions

Occupied private dwellings:

An ‘Occupied’ private dwelling is a private dwelling occupied by one or more people on Census Night. Most often this is a separate house, townhouse, apartment or flat. It can also be an occupied caravan, cabin, tent or boat. The structure of a dwelling can be identified by using the variable Dwelling structure (STRD).

People staying in an Occupied private dwelling on Census Night are provided an online or paper Household form to complete. Household forms collect information about the people staying in the dwelling, their household family structure, and their housing (e.g. number of people and rooms).

The variable Dwelling location (DLOD) can be used to identify occupied private dwellings within the following establishments:

  • marinas
  • manufactured home estates
  • self-contained retirement villages
  • caravan/residential parks
  • camping grounds
Unoccupied private dwellings:

An ‘Unoccupied’ private dwelling is most often a separate house, townhouse, apartment or flat, with no one staying there on Census Night.

In addition to the above, these Unoccupied private dwellings are also included:

  • holiday homes (for owner’s use only or those rented out commercially)
  • huts and cabins (unless accommodation for seasonal workers’ quarters)
  • newly completed dwellings
  • habitable dwellings which are due for demolition or repair
  • dwellings to let

Unoccupied private dwellings in caravan or residential parks (such as holiday homes, huts and cabins), and marinas and manufactured home estates are not counted in the Census. The exception to this is the residences of owners, managers or caretakers of the establishment, and unoccupied residences in self-contained retirement villages.

Non-private dwellings (NPDs):

NPDs provide a communal or transitory type of accommodation. These are more likely to be short-stay accommodation and are only counted if occupied on Census Night. NPDs include the following:

  • hotels and motels
  • guest houses
  • prisons
  • religious and charitable institutions
  • boarding schools
  • defence establishments
  • hospitals
  • other communal dwellings

People in NPDs on Census Night are provided an individual Personal form to complete. Personal forms collect information about the person and their residential status within the establishment, but no information on the dwelling or household family structure. 

Only people are counted at NPDs, not rooms, cells, units or beds. If there are long-term owners, managers or caretakers who work and live there, extra Private dwellings (PDs) are added.


People enumerated on an overnight journey by plane, train or bus cannot be allocated a dwelling type. This category exists for data processing and data querying purposes only.


This includes dwellings which exist on off-shore oil rigs and drilling platforms.


This includes people on ‘vessels’ travelling between ports in Australian waters i.e. ships, cargo vessels, passenger liners, ocean-going passenger or car ferries and dredges. Excluded are foreign-owned cargo vessels and those bound for overseas.

Question(s) from the Census form

This variable is not collected from a question on the Census form.

How this variable is created

This variable is either inherited from the existing ABS Address Register (see ABS Address Register, User’s Guide) or created by Census field staff on a case by case basis. Census field staff check with some areas and establishments prior to, and after Census Night to confirm dwelling information. New dwellings may be discovered through this process and added to the the count of Census dwellings, along with any updates to dwelling types for existing addresses.

The occupancy for the majority of dwellings in Australia is determined by the returned Census form:

  • a form with one or more people present on Census Night is set to 'occupied'
  • a form with all usual residents away on Census Night is set to 'unoccupied'.

Dwellings from which no form is received have their occupancy determined by using a number of sources of information, including:

  • ‘not at home’ forms submitted by residents through ABS online services
  • residents who contacted the ABS with information
  • intelligence from Census field staff making follow up visits to dwellings after Census Night
  • other requests and point of contacts with dwellings.

Where these methods cannot determine dwelling occupancy, outcomes from a newly introduced Census Occupancy Model are used.

History and changes

This topic has been included in every Census release.

Since 2006:

  • This data has been collected by ABS field officers rather than as part of the Census form.
  • The Off-shore category was implemented for off-shore rigs and drilling platforms such as those off northern Australia. It also included people enumerated aboard ships in Australian waters, but since then, these people have been included as enumerated in the Shipping category.
  • Unoccupied dwellings in self-contained retirement villages have been coded to Unoccupied private dwelling.

Data use considerations

A data error has been discovered with this variable, there is a small number of people with incorrectly coded migratory, off-shore, or shipping statuses.

The ABS does its best to have accurate Dwelling type information. However it can sometimes be difficult to determine Dwelling type for dwellings with mixed occupancy or where we were not able to make contact with the residents to confirm the type of dwelling.

Dwelling Type (DWTD) does not have a non-response rate as it is sourced from the ABS Address Register or created during Census enumeration. 

Examples of mixed occupancy

 Private dwellingNon-private dwelling
Self-contained apartmentsLong-term private apartment accommodationShort-term hotel-style accommodation
Aged care and retirement villagesPrivate self-contained dwellingsCommunal accommodation with supported nursing care


Examples of misclassified dwelling types

Some non-private dwellings such as group homes for the disabled or convents and monasteries may not be easily identifiable as Non-private dwellings and may be treated as Private dwellings.

There may be misclassification between Unoccupied private dwellings and out-of-scope Private dwellings; non-residential premises and construction sites may have dwellings that are not habitable but are identified as Unoccupied private dwellings.

Related variables and glossary terms

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