ONS coding system

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In the United Kingdom, the Office for National Statistics maintains a series of codes to represent a wide range of geographical areas of the UK, for use in tabulating census and other statistical data. These codes are referred to as ONS codes or GSS codes referring to the Government Statistical Service of which ONS is part.

The previous hierarchical system of codes has been replaced as from January 2011[1] by a nine-character code for all types of geography, in which there is no relation between the code for a lower-tier area and the corresponding parent area. The ONS intends to maintain the older coding system in parallel with the new one until the end of 2013.[2]

Geography of the UK Census[edit]

Information from the 2011 Census is published for a wide variety of geographical units. These areas include:

  • Counties in England
  • Districts within English counties, and Unitary Authority areas served by one council providing district and county functions
  • Unitary council areas in Wales, Scotland, and Northern Ireland
  • Civil parishes (communities in Wales)
  • Electoral wards (called electoral divisions in Wales). These are the areas defined for the election of local councillors, but are also widely used for presenting statistics at a smaller scale than the whole district.
  • Census output areas (OA). These are the smallest unit for which census data are published - they were initially generated to support publication of 2001 Census outputs and contain at least 40 households and 100 persons, the target size being 125 households. They were built up from postcode blocks after the census data were available, with the intention of standardising population sizes, geographical shape and social homogeneity (in terms of dwelling types and housing tenure). The OAs generated in 2001 were retained as far as possible for the publication of outputs from the 2011 Census (less than 3% were changed[3]). Before 2001, census data were published for larger Enumeration Districts (ED) which were delineated before the census was conducted and were the organisational units for census data collection.

Neighbourhood Statistics Geography[edit]

Super Output Areas (SOAs) are a set of geographical areas developed following the 2001 census, initially to facilitate the calculation of the Indices of Deprivation 2004 and subsequently for a range of additional Neighbourhood Statistics (NeSS). The aim was to produce a set of areas of consistent size, whose boundaries would not change (unlike electoral wards), suitable for the publication of data such as the Indices of Deprivation. They are an aggregation of adjacent Output Areas with similar social characteristics. Lower Layer Super Output Areas (LSOAs) typically contain 4 to 6 OAs with a population of around 1500. Middle Layer Super Output Areas (MSOAs) on average have a population of 7,200.[4] The hierarchy of Output Areas and the two tiers of Super Output Areas have become known as the Neighbourhood Statistics Geography.

Former hierarchical coding system[edit]

The older ONS code was constructed top down:

For example, 12 for Cambridgeshire.

  • A four-character code represented a district, so that the first two characters showed the county in which the district was placed.

For example, 12UB for Cambridge district or 12UD for Fenland.

  • In the case of a unitary authority (including metropolitan and London boroughs) the first two digits were 00.

For example, 00AL for Greenwich (London Borough) or 00EC for Middlesbrough.

  • Local Government wards were given a two-letter code within their local authority.

For example, 12UBGA for Petersfield Ward within Cambridge district.

  • The smallest level, Census OAs were originally given an additional 4 digits within a ward, so that the first output area in Petersfield Ward was coded 12UBGA0001.
  • Civil parishes were also coded using this hierarchical system. Parishes were coded using an additional 3 digits after their local authority. For example, within 12UD for Fenland district, the parish of Tydd St. Giles was coded 12UD010.

Current GSS coding system[edit]

The current system replaces these codes with a fixed length code of nine characters. The first three characters indicate the level of geography and the six digits following define the individual unit. For example, the Royal Borough of Greenwich is coded as E09000011, Middlesbrough is E06000002, Cambridge E07000008 and Fenland E07000010.

The meaning of some common three character prefixes is as follows:[5]

England Wales Scotland Northern Ireland Entity
E00 W00 S00 Census output area (OA)
E01 W01 S01 lower layer super output area (LSOA); data zone (S)
E02 W02 S02 middle layer super output area (MSOA); intermediate zone (S)
E04 W04 civil parish (E); Community (W)
E05 W05 S13 ward or electoral division
E06 W06 S12 unitary authority
E07 non-metropolitan district (two-tier)
E08 metropolitan borough
E09 London borough
E10 county
E11 metropolitan county
E12 English region
E14 W07 S14 N06 Westminster parliamentary constituency
E15 W08 S15 N07 European electoral region
E32 W09 S16 London Assembly; Welsh Assembly; Scottish parliament constituency
W10 S17 Welsh Assembly; Scottish parliament electoral region
E26 W18 S21 national park

Nine-character GSS codes[edit]

For a full and up-to-date listing of GSS names and codes, please follow the link to ONS Geography's 'Open Geography' portal, below.


  1. ^ "New Geography Codes and Naming Policy implemented 1 January 2011". Office for National Statistics. Retrieved 1 June 2011. 
  2. ^ "GSS Coding and Naming - Frequently Asked Questions (FAQ)" (PDF). Office for National Statistics. Retrieved 1 August 2012. 
  3. ^ "Output Areas". ONS. 
  4. ^ "Super Output Areas". ONS. 
  5. ^ "Register of Geographic Codes (RGC)". Coding and Naming for Statistical Geographies. ONS. Retrieved 4 September 2011. 

See also[edit]

External links[edit]