Ask LH: What Happens If I Don’t Complete The Australian Census?

Ask LH: What Happens If I Don’t Complete The Australian Census?

Dear Lifehacker, I never got around to filling out the Australian census on census night (I tried a few times, but the website wasn’t working.) I was wondering what the odds are of me actually receiving a fine from the ABS? If they send me a letter and I ignore it, what happens next? Also, does the fact that the website was down on census night mean I’m off the hook? Thanks, Midnight Rider

Dear MR,

You’re not the first Lifehacker reader to ask us about this — you can find a comprehensive answer to this question here. In short, the government can legally fine you for not completing the Census to the tune of $180 per day. (This is all outlined in the Census and Statistics Act 1905.)

Whether this will actually happen is less clear. During the last Census in 2011, the number of fines issued was just 78. For it’s part, the Australian Bureau of Statistics has stressed that it only issues penalties as a last resort.

Before you are fined, the ABS will notify you and explain why it’s your legal obligation to complete the Census. You may also receive a Notice of Direction letter warning you of the consequences for failing to comply. Ignoring these letters will only get you so far — the ABS will also call you and might even send agents to your residential address.

If you’re worried about copping a fine, bear in mind that you still have a couple of weeks to complete the census — the deadline is actually September 23. On the downside, this means you probably can’t use the excuse that the website wasn’t working as it’s been fine for weeks now. C’est la vie!

Cheers Lifehacker

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  • I completed the online census. Then got a visit from a Census rep saying that I didn’t complete it.

    Stupid me didn’t save the reference code the system spat out (isn’t it always the ONE time you don’t save the completion code…) I said that I would try again.

    Another 2 weeks went by (of me not completing it). I came home to another calling card from a Census rep. So I went to complete it online again. Unfortunately I didn’t save the password. I tried calling the hotline, but all they did was automatically send me out a paper form.

    I got another visit yesterday from a Census rep (yes 3 visits so far). He handed me a form and pleasantly told me to hurry up. I plan to complete it in the coming days. Then he’ll visit again to pick it up.

    They are persistent.

    • It’s things like this that will corrupt the integrity of the data they’re asking for. Surely if you know you at least got a code after filling it in and submitting it, that would mean you’ve completed it. They haven’t really asked you to fill it in twice have they?

      • I originally completed it online (I’m 99% sure I completed it correctly – just didn’t save the confirmation code). I’m now completing it in paper form.

  • 3 visits over 2 days from the local census rep complaining it hadn’t been done.
    i tried for the first few days to complete it. but with their well-publicised screw-ups i soon moved on to something else.
    in the end i filled it in with some information on my phone whilst on the way to work. didn’t take too long.
    i seem to recall filling in a slightly incorrect spelling of my name…. shame, now I’ll have no way of tracking where they’ve sold the information to when the junk mail addressed to Professor Squiddlybonk Jerumpikik starts arriving 😉

  • No visits here, no letter in the mail, no login code… I don’t seem to exist to these people. I live in metropolitan Brisbane. They buggered this up in so many ways.

    How can anyone have any confidence in this process?

  • I too had a visit from the census worker despite filling it in online on the day (in the morning actually, hours before the site went down.) I did have the receipt number handy though, so with any luck, I won’t hear from them again.

  • Census lady was so persistent.. I already told her that been busy and we know the deadline is 23rd september, then she’s like.. no it’s the 18th. gave her a look, then blah blah.. ill do it online tomorrow. called up to make sure it’s the 23rd and was correct. Not sure if she is just trying to use scare tactics or just bad at her job. but in the end, we did finish the form, Just annoyed on how she handled it.

    • I had a census man come over and he was insistent that the date was the 18Th too. Yet every news article states sept 23. Just a bit weird.

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