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Purpose of the survey
The Business Characteristics Survey (BCS) is an annual survey that collects key measures on business characteristics to develop a better understanding of the business practices and behaviours that impact on business performance. Your participation in the survey will assist in the development of relevant and effective government policies to support Australian businesses, particularly small and medium businesses. As well as producing population estimates, the ABS provides specialised data products and services to inform Australia’s important decisions.
There have been several changes to the 2020-21 BCS questionnaire based on recommendations made by policy makers and key BCS data users. The 2020-21 BCS survey will now focus primarily on business innovation activity. Some of the key topics include:
- Business performance
- Types of innovation activity
- Collaboration for the purpose of innovation
- Innovation expenditure
- Barriers to and benefits of innovation
The ABS's ongoing commitment to reduce burden on businesses completing surveys has also resulted in the number of questions decreasing significantly from previous versions of the BCS.
Thank you for your participation. We acknowledge and value your time and effort participating in this survey. Your support enables the ABS to continue to produce the statistics that inform important decisions affecting Australian businesses.
Frequently asked questions
About this survey
What questions are asked in BCS?
This survey includes questions relating to business characteristics with detailed questions on innovation.
Why has this business been included in BCS?
Your business has been selected as part of a sample survey. Details of businesses are obtained from the Australian Businesses Register (ABR), which contains the names and addresses of all businesses that have a registered Australian Business Number (ABN) with the Australian Tax Office (ATO). A random sample of businesses has been selected from the business register based on their industry and employment size. Businesses in the sample are randomly selected to represent other businesses with similar characteristics such as income or number of employees. Some businesses must be included in the sample because they contribute substantially to their particular industry or group.
Do we have to answer the questions?
Yes. Under the Census and Statistics Act 1905, you are obliged to provide the information requested by the ABS. All the information you provide will remain strictly confidential.
We recognise that your business may have been impacted by recent events, including natural disasters or the coronavirus (COVID-19) pandemic. Our aim is to ensure that Australia has access to the best possible information on the social and economic impacts of these events. Your participation in our surveys at this time is critical in informing our country’s response. By completing this survey, you help to ensure the results truly reflect the state of Australian businesses.
Will the information we provide be kept safe, secure, and confidential?
Yes. We take the security of the information you provide to us very seriously. Your completed form and personal information will remain strictly confidential to the ABS. We use the information you provide to calculate statistics, which are released in ways that do not allow for the identification of businesses or organisations.
The information in this survey is collected under the authority of the Census and Statistics Act 1905. Under the Act, staff of the ABS are obliged to maintain the confidentiality and privacy of information provided.
Will we be paid for our time?
No. There is no provision within the Census and Statistics Act 1905 to reimburse individuals, businesses or organisations for the cost of providing statistical information. In line with other national statistical organisations throughout the world, individuals, businesses and other organisations are asked to supply information for statistical purposes without compensation. It is only with the support of people like you that we can continue to produce the statistics that inform Australia's important decisions.
How long will we need to participate in this survey?
The length of time that a business is selected in any particular survey will depend on factors such as the size of the business and how significant the business' activity is to the overall results. Larger businesses have a higher probability of selection in multiple ABS business surveys. Due to their significance to the overall survey results, they will usually remain in a survey on an ongoing basis. Smaller businesses may be included for up to five years; although there can be some exceptions to this rule.
We have already completed the survey and have received a reminder letter. What should we do?
If you have received a reminder letter about completing a survey, it is likely that you have returned the survey at the same time as we issued your reminder notice. If you wish to confirm this, please call one of our team on 1800 681 979 and we will check the information against our records.
What do I do if my question is not answered on this page?
If you can't find an answer to your question here or in the information provided on your form, you can also call 1800 681 979 (Free call excluding mobile phones, 9am to 5pm AEST).
How to complete this survey
How do we answer BCS?
There are two ways you can complete this survey.
If you have received a letter or email from us with a Form Access Code, you can access and complete your survey form online using that code. Go online to our ABS Survey Account, set up an account, or if you already have one, log in, and then add your Form Access Code to retrieve the form. If you are unable to complete your survey online, or have not received the letter we sent you, please call us on 1800 681 979 and one of our team will be happy to assist you.
The ABS survey account is a secure service that allows a form to be accessed as many times as is needed before final submission. After submission of a survey, you will not be able to access the contents. If you are concerned that you have provided incorrect information, please call us on 1800 681 979 and one of our team will be happy to assist you. When you have set up an ABS survey account, the same account can be used to access and answer future surveys.
2. Paper form
If you have received a letter from us with an enclosed paper form, please complete the form and return it to us using the Reply Paid envelope provided. Alternatively, you can complete the form online. Instructions on how to complete the form online are written on the front of the paper form.
Why can't we see the information we provided last year in the current survey web form?
We’re having trouble completing the survey online – where can we find help?
For more information on completing our surveys online, help is available on our Survey Account Help page. This page helps with technical difficulties and includes frequently asked questions which assist in creating and using the ABS Survey Account. If you are having trouble creating or accessing your account, completing the survey online, or haven't received your Form Access Code, please call us on 1800 681 979 and one of our team will be happy to assist you.
About the questions in the survey
What is the survey reference period?
The reference period for the survey is the financial year ended 30 June 2021. Number of employees is collected for the last pay period ending in June 2021.
What information can I be expected to provide?
- Basic business information
- Business performance
- Information relating to innovation activity
- Collaboration for the purpose of innovation
- Barriers and benefits of innovation
- Importance of digital technologies (IT) to innovation
A sample version of this survey is available to preview on the online form by clicking ‘Preview a PDF of survey questions’ from the navigation menu.
Basic business information
What period is covered by business information on this form?
There are two periods covering business information on this form. Some questions ask for information for the financial year ended 30 June 2021, and others for the two years ended 30 June 2021. It is important to read the question carefully and report for the correct period. If the business has a different financial year, please report for a 12 or 24 month period which ends between 1 October 2020 and 30 September 2021.
Do we still need to complete the survey if the business was sold before the beginning of, or during the reference period?
Please complete your survey form with comments indicating the sale of the entity and the date of the sale. This will help determine whether the business will be selected in the next survey reference period.
If the business operated by the selected entity (e.g. ABN) was sold during the reference period, then the survey should be completed using figures up to, and including, the day that the business was sold, as well as figures relating to any other new activity undertaken by the selected entity for the remainder of the financial year. Please also provide the name of the new business owners.
Do we still need to complete the survey if the business is still operating but didn't trade during the reference period?
You will still need to submit your survey with comments stating that your business/organisation did not trade this year. You do not need to include any figures or zero values.
Do we still need to complete the survey if the business has gone into liquidation or administration during the reference period?
Please complete the survey using information up to, and including, the day that the business was liquidated or went into administration. It is also important to report the date that this occurred. If you are unable to access business information, then the liquidator or administrator should complete the survey. Where this is not possible, best available estimates of the data should be provided. If you are not able to provide estimates, please call us on 1800 681 979 and one of our team will be happy to assist you.
My business activity changed during the year. Do I still need to complete a form? Which activity should I answer the questions for?
Yes, you still need to complete a form provided that the new activity was also conducted under the ABN specified. Business conducted under any other ABN should not be included on this form. Include a comment at the end of the form to advise that the activity changed during the year. Consider your entire year's business operations and structure when answering the other questions, irrespective of the change of activity.
Number of employees
How do I count the number of employees?
The number of employees is a count of all employees who received pay for any part of the last pay period ending on or before 30 June 2021. It excludes casual or seasonal employees who are on the payroll, but did not work during this pay period. Refer to the employment question on the survey form for a full list of employees to be included/excluded.