Using administrative data for the 2021 Census

The ABS is using administrative data to enhance the efficiency and quality of the 2021 Census. It will guide how we collect Census data, improve the quality of our Census count, and may be used to fill data gaps arising from events such as natural disasters. 

What is administrative data?

Administrative data is information collected by government agencies, businesses or other organisations for various purposes, including registrations, transactions and record keeping, usually during the delivery of a service.

Examples of administrative data include Personal Income Tax information from the Australian Taxation Office and Medicare enrolments from the Department of Health.

The ABS only collects and uses administrative data for statistical and research purposes and does not release data in a manner that could identify an individual.

Using administrative data for the 2021 Census

Guided by our research over the last few years, administrative data will be used to:

  • Help maximise Census response by identifying areas where people may need extra support to complete the Census, and having strategies in place to deliver this support. For example, employing field staff who speak different languages and have culturally diverse backgrounds.
  • Help improve the Census count by refining our methods to estimate the number of households unoccupied on Census night, and to make adjustments where necessary to ensure the Census count is accurate.
  • Help us prepare for any unexpected events that could impact the Census response. The recent COVID-19 pandemic and extreme bushfire season have reinforced our need to be prepared for difficulties outside of our control in conducting the Census. Identifying other data sources is a key way to be prepared, in case there is a need to fill in any gaps where information has been difficult to collect.

As with previous Censuses, administrative data will be used to update the Address Register, and provide counts of persons in less accessible places such as prisons and the Australian Antarctic base. 

Benefits of using administrative data

The ABS is using administrative data to improve and expand the statistics we provide to the Australian community, and to make our surveys more efficient and easier to complete.

We have a long history of using administrative data, including in how we run the Census, and the digital age is increasing its production and availability. Our Corporate Plan outlines our commitment to harnessing the power of this data as new sources continue to become available.

For example, we have expanded our use of administrative data to:

The ABS does not use administrative data for compliance

The ABS does not collect, use or release administrative data for compliance or enforcement purposes. For example, we do not use administrative data to follow up an individual who hasn’t filled out their Census form.

Like other data collected by the ABS, administrative data is collected under the Census and Statistics Act 1905 and is used for statistical purposes only. Your data remains secure and confidential.

Keeping data safe

The ABS takes data security very seriously. The protection of privacy is our highest priority. All personal information is kept private and secure. We set high standards and have a strong reputation for maintaining the confidentiality of data.

The ABS has comprehensive privacy policies and all data projects comply with legislation, including the Census and Statistics Act 1905 and the Privacy Act 1988.

Privacy Impact Assessment

An independent Privacy Impact Assessment on the use of administrative data for the 2021 Census was undertaken by Information Integrity Solutions in early 2020. The report and ABS response to the recommendations are available on the ABS Privacy Impact Assessments page.

Research and supporting information

In October 2020 the ABS released the article: Assessing administrative data quality to enhance the 2021 Census

For administrative data to be of most use in the 2021 Census, we need to know how accurately it represents Australia’s population. This article compares population counts created from the administrative data with the ABS’s official population counts at the time of the 2016 Census.

In June 2019 the ABS released the article: Can administrative data help to improve the Census count?

This article presents results from preliminary research undertaken to show how administrative data can help improve the Census count, which has informed our decision making on how administrative data will be used for the 2021 Census. The article shows how administrative data can help improve: 

  • the way we include counts for people we think were missed in the Census, and 
  • our decision on whether a house was empty on Census night, so we avoid providing counts where we shouldn’t.

We will continue releasing relevant research as it becomes available.