Each year thousands of businesses are asked to complete ONS business surveys. Similar to jury service, being selected to take part in a survey is relatively random and complying with the request is a legal requirement. So what is the ONS and what is the purpose of their business surveys?
What is the ONS?
The ONS stands for the Office for National Statistics. It is the executive office of the UK Statistics Authority and the country’s largest producer of official statistics. The main responsibilities of the ONS are collecting, analysing and disseminating statistics about the UK’s economy, society and population.
What are the ONS business surveys?
The ONS routinely conducts dozens of different surveys to gather data on a wide range of aspects pertaining to business. These range from an Annual Survey of Hours and Earnings (ASHE) through to a Quarterly Operating Profits Survey. A list of all current business surveys can be found here.
The surveys consist of questionnaires which need to be completed by businesses and sent back to the ONS for processing. Although some of these surveys can be submitted online, many still need to be filled out on paper and posted back to the ONS.
What is the purpose of ONS business surveys?
The data collected in the business surveys are used by the UK Government, HM Treasury, financial institutions and other external forecasters, to inform policy making decisions and help monitor the economy (e.g. data collected are used as a primary measure of inflation).
Additionally, the data are used by businesses, universities, the media and the public to monitor the government’s performance and gain a better understanding of the UK economy.
Can I refuse to complete the ONS business survey?
In general, there is a legal requirement to complete ONS business surveys, since most of them are conducted under section 1 of the Statistics of Trade Act 1947 (entitled ‘Power of competent authorities to obtain information’).
As set out by the legislation, the ONS can require businesses to provide details in the surveys for “the purpose of obtaining the information necessary for the appreciation of economic trends and the provision of a statistical service for industry and for the discharge by government departments of their functions”.
The information which can be requested includes a broad range of business matters set out in Schedule 1 of the Act. Failure to comply with a request to complete an ONS business survey can lead to prosecution at a Magistrates Court with a fine up to a maximum of £2,500.
What are the Monthly Business Surveys?
The Monthly Business Surveys (MBS) form part of the overall ONS business surveys. Since they collect data on a monthly basis, they are often the most commonly received by businesses.
It has been reported that these monthly surveys will be scrapped by 2021, in favour of using figures gathered through VAT returns, as part of an overall reduction in the reliance on surveys by the ONS.