Definition of a household harmonisation guidance

Policy details

Metadata item Details
Publication date:27 November 2020
Owner:GSS Harmonisation Team
Who this is for:Users and producers of statistics
Type:Harmonisation standards and guidance

What is harmonisation?

Harmonisation is the process of making statistics and data more comparable, consistent and coherent.

This guidance is intended to assist statistical producers to improve the consistency of their statistics and accessibility for users.

What is covered in this guidance?

This guidance covers the harmonised definition of a household, as well as the definition of a main residence for those who have more than one address. This guidance also notes the impact of moving from 2001 definitions of a household to the current harmonised standard.

Definition of a household

The harmonised definition of a household for the purposes of analysis and publication is identical to that of the household response unit, which is used in defining the sample and data collection.

The definition of a household is:

One person living alone or a group of people (not necessarily related) living at the same address who share cooking facilities and share a living room or sitting room or dining area.

This definition of the household response unit has been used for the 2011 Census and used in social surveys conducted by the Office for National Statistics since the start of 2011. It differs only slightly from the definition used for the 1981, 1991 and 2001 Censuses which was:

One person or a group who have the accommodation as their only or main residence and (for a group of people) either share at least one meal a day or share the living accommodation.

Definition of main residence

If a respondent has more than one address, their assessment of which is the main address is taken except in the following circumstances:

  1. Adult children, that is, aged 16 and over who live away from home for purposes of either work or study and come home only for holidays should not be included at their parental address.
  2. Anyone who has been away from the address continuously for six months or more should be excluded even if the respondent continues to think of it as their main residence.
  3. Anyone who has been living continuously at an address for six months or more should be included at that address even if they have their main residence elsewhere.
  4. Anyone who is searching for a permanent address in this country should be included at their temporary address, unless they are making a holiday or business visit only and remain resident abroad.
  5. Addresses used only as second homes, that is holiday homes, should never be counted as the main residence. 

Further information

The harmonised definition of a household changed in 2011. To measure the impact of the introduction of the changed household definition, the Office for National Statistics developed a set of questions to be asked to interviewers for each address they visited. This was part of the Opinions and Lifestyle Survey, and took place in 2010

Overall, only two addresses out of 2,188 productive cases (less than 0.1% of interviewed households) would change classification under the new household definition. As the two households change classification in the opposite direction, there was no overall change in the total number of households under the two definitions.

As in the case of harmonised standards, where a survey needs to add information it can do so, provided that it can also identify the harmonised information (ie in this case, the harmonised response unit). For example, the Labour Force Survey adds students who live in halls of residence in term-time and residents in National Health Service accommodation to the coverage allowed in the harmonised definition, but these are clearly identified and the harmonised definition can be derived for comparability.

Related links

Links to other demographic information harmonised standards:


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