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Census (Amendment) (Scotland) Act 2019


3.The primary legislation that provides for the taking of a census in Scotland is the Census Act 1920 (“the 1920 Act”). Under the provisions of section 1(1) of the 1920 Act an Order in Council may prescribe:

  • the date on which the census is to be taken;

  • the persons by whom and with respect to whom the census returns are to be made; and

  • the particulars to be stated in the returns.

4.Section 6 makes equivalent provision in relation to local censuses.

5.The Schedule to the 1920 Act authorises the inclusion in the Census Order of specified topics in respect of which particulars may be required. “Particulars” are, essentially, the answers that people give to the questions in the census form. The current Schedule lists the following topics:

  • names, sex, age;

  • occupation, profession, trade or employment;

  • nationality, birthplace, race, language;

  • place of abode and character of dwelling;

  • condition as to marriage, relation to head of family, issue born in marriage;

  • religion; and

  • any other matters with respect to which it is desirable to obtain statistical information with a view to ascertaining the social or civil condition of the population.

6.Section 8(1) of the 1920 Act makes it an offence (punishable on summary conviction to a level 3 fine) to refuse or neglect to comply with an Order in Council under section 1 or 6 of the 1920 Act. It also makes it an offence for a person required to answer any question in pursuance of such an order, to refuse or neglect to answer or give a false answer to that question. Section 8(1A) provides that a person is not liable for a penalty under section 8(1) in relation to questions on religion.

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Text created by the Scottish Government to explain what the Act sets out to achieve and to make the Act accessible to readers who are not legally qualified. Explanatory Notes were introduced in 1999 and accompany all Acts of the Scottish Parliament except those which result from Budget Bills.


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