The Waitaki District was used as a trial for the online collection of data for the census in 2013.
Everyone got a visit from someone who delivered the papers and explained there was choice of filling in the paper form or doing it online.
The trial was declared a success and this year the on-line census is being done nation-wide.
But unlike the trial in Waitaki, people will have to opt-out of the online option if they can’t or don’t want to do it that way.
Instead of someone calling with forms, everyone will get a letter explaining how to fill the census in online and what to do if they’d rather have a paper form to fill in.
That sounds easy enough but the ODT reported on concerns for elderly, those with poor sight and others who don’t have computers.
These concerns have been echoed on Facebook where people are complaining about the difficulties faced by elderly relatives who rang the 0800 number to request forms.
There’s also concerns about people who can’t read and write.
The slowness of the postal system is another problem.
Mail is delivered only three days a week, if people didn’t get a form by yesterday, it will be tomorrow before one arrives. Even if they phone for a paper form straight away it could well be next Tuesday, census day, or later before the form arrives.
Completing the census is a legal requirement. It’s important that everyone is counted or districts will get less funding for health, education and other services and infrastructure which are allocated on a population basis.
The 2013 census showed only a tiny increase in the Waitaki District’s population.
That is difficult to understand when irrigation has created so many jobs on farms and in businesses which supply and service them.
There were 4 houses on our farm and our two immediate neighbours’ before irrigation, now there are 15. We’re the oldest in any of those houses by more than 15 years.
Most of the occupants are in their 20s and 30s and many have young families. This pattern has been repeated all around the district.
Irrigation hasn’t just created jobs on farms there are more in businesses which service and supply them and most of the people in those jobs live in the district.
Intensification hasn’t just happened on farms, there’s been a growth in lifestyle blocks too. There’s also a lot of new building in town and there aren’t a large number of unoccupied houses.
Why weren’t these signs of population growth reflected in the census?
Could it be that a lot of people didn’t bother to fill in their forms, whether on paper or online five years ago?
With no one visiting each house as they used to do, it will be far easier for those who don’t want to fill in a form to ignore it, and far more difficult for those who would but can’t without help, to do so.
It will be much cheaper if more people do their census on-line but coverage is much more important than cost.
The on-line option should be the opt-in one rather than the paper one.