Household reference person harmonised standard

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 harmonised standard sets out how to collect and report statistics to ensure comparability across different data collections in the Government Statistical Service (GSS).

Harmonisation produces more useful statistics that give users a greater level of understanding.

What do we mean by household reference person?

In United Kingdom statistics, the concept of a Household Reference Person (or HRP) was introduced in 2001 to replace the traditional concept of the “head of the household”. Household reference persons provide an individual person within a household to act as a reference point for producing further derived statistics and for characterising a whole household according to characteristics of the chosen reference person.

The household reference person is the member of the household in whose name the accommodation is owned or rented, or is otherwise responsible for the accommodation. In households with a sole householder that person is the household reference person.

In households with joint householders the person with the highest income is taken as the household reference person.

If both householders have exactly the same income, the older is taken as the household reference person. Note that this definition does not require a question about people’s actual incomes; only a question about who has the highest income.

It should be noted that the definition of Household Reference Person differs slightly for the purposes of the England and Wales Census. Where there is a family, multiple people or family groups in a household, the HRP is selected depending on economic activity. The following criteria are presented in priority order and should be used to select the HRP:

  • economically active, employed, full-time, non-student
  • economically active, employed, full-time, student
  • economically active, employed, part-time, non-student
  • economically active, employed, part-time, student
  • economically active, unemployed, non-student
  • economically active, unemployed, student
  • economically inactive, retired
  • economically inactive, other

If there are multiple families in a household, the Family Reference Person (FRP) for each is determined using these criteria. The HRP is then selected from the FRPs using the same process again.

If FRPs in the household have the same economic activity, the HRP should be the eldest person. If there are multiple people of the same age, the HRP should be the person whose name appears first on the questionnaire. Students at their non-term time address and short-term migrants cannot be the HRP.

Question and response options (inputs)

The question

Question stemResponse option
In whose name is the accommodation owned or rented?[enter name]
You have told me that [names] jointly own or rent the accommodation. Which of them has the highest income (from earnings, benefits, pensions and any other sources)?[enter name]

Using this standard

Guidance for data collection

Types of data collection this standard is suitable for

These questions are used in interviewer led (such as telephone or face-to-face) surveys.

Using this question in the Welsh language

This harmonised standard was designed in the English language. At present we do not provide a Welsh language translation, as user demand for this standard is UK wide and Welsh language testing has not been completed to ensure a translation is comparable and appropriate. Harmonised standards based on Census research have been tested in the Welsh language, which is why we are able to provide Welsh versions of them. If you are interested in using a Welsh language version of a harmonised standard that has not been translated, please contact us at


The questions used to output household reference person come from the GSS harmonised standard household reference person. This means the outputs are comparable with other surveys that use this standard. However, we would not recommend comparing household reference person from this output to other household reference person publications that do not use the harmonised measure.

Related links

Link to demographic information harmonised standards:


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