Thousands waiting for census forms as the deadline passes

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The Independent Online

Delivery problems were still dogging the 2001 census yesterday, as a small army of staff struggled to distribute forms for the £255m exercise.

Delivery problems were still dogging the 2001 census yesterday, as a small army of staff struggled to distribute forms for the £255m exercise.

National Statistics, the organiser, admitted thousands of people in "small pockets" of London had still not received the paperwork, despite some enumerators working past the official deadline for delivery.

The 70,000 census workers were said to have experienced particular difficulty gaining access to properties guarded by security doors.

All census forms, officially termed Form H1, were supposed to have been delivered to Britain's 24 million householders by Friday. Problems recruiting and training staff in inner-city areas, such as Hackney and Tower Hamlets, meant the job was still incomplete ­ and enumerators were still delivering forms on Saturday.

This year's census ­ scheduled to be completed by Britons at midnight ­ has been bedevilled with technical problems, which have forced organisers to install hundreds of extra telephone lines.

National Statistics admitted that of the 1.3 million calls that flooded the census hotline, 80 per cent had been from people concerned that they had not received a form.

As the difficulties threatened to overshadow the census, the shadow Home Secretary, Ann Widdecombe, complained that it showed the Government could not run an outing to a brewery.

National Statistics said it was unable to say how many forms had not been delivered. A spokeswoman confirmed that 5.2 million forms had been returned in pre-paid envelopes.

She urged people who had still not received a form to request a form on the Census helpline by telephoning 0845 3013000, and said that those unable to fill in a form immediately would not face legal penalties. All other queries can be directed to a main helpline on 0845 301 2001.

Under census legislation, householders face a £1,000 fine for failing to complete the 41-question questionnaire. After the last census in 1991, 342 people were prosecuted for failing to complete forms.

There was also a delivery planned yesterday to every newborn baby. In 1991, a large number of babies were omitted from the population count, either because they were still in hospital on the census day or because as their parents forgot to include them.

In fact, babies born before 30 April should be included on their parents' form even if they are still in hospital. Every baby born on 29 April will receive a sleepsuit bearing the "Count me in" census campaign slogan.

The census ­ used to plan public services ­ asks about the state of respondents' health and includes a voluntary question on religion.