Ben Laurie blathering

Census FAIL

Once every ten years, every household in the UK gets to fill in a census form. This year, for the first time ever, I think, you can do it online. So, imagine how delighted we are that I am the only person in my household whose name actually fits in the box. Yes, really, there’s a 50 character limit.

Why? Suppose they’d splashed out and allowed 500 characters instead. What would that cost? Well, let’s assume 100M names. That’s an extra 450 x 100 = 45,000 MB of data, assuming they’re still using databases with fixed width fields. 45 GB. That would’ve cost them nearly an extra £5 at today’s prices. Not £5 per person, or £5 per household. £5 total.

Thank god for government savings, eh?

BTW, my wife rang and asked what to do. Amazingly, they opt for the least useful possible answer: start at the beginning of your name and keep going ’til you run out of space. I’m sure future generations will be very happy to have complete middle names and no surname. Not.


  1. Does it not just say “First name”/”Last Name” only? I don’t quite recall how it looked, but I remember realising I don’t need to enter middle names…

    It’s still limiting, that’s given.

    Comment by J — 28 Mar 2011 @ 16:02

  2. Apparently I can’t hear very well. Indeed, the 15 character limit on the surname is the issue.

    Comment by Ben — 29 Mar 2011 @ 10:02

  3. You’ve forgotten how much more RAID storage costs, that’s £90, then there’s the Oracle licenses, which probably come to about £300,000/year

    Comment by SteveL — 28 Mar 2011 @ 20:29

  4. If you think the government are paying 11p/GB for storage, I’ve got a bridge I’d like to sell you. Not that the limit is excusable in any way.

    Comment by Loz — 28 Mar 2011 @ 21:13

  5. Interestingly the paper form just asks for your first and last name (two fields, 15 characters each). Since I used the paper one as a guide/template, that’s all I entered when submitting mine online.

    Comment by Thomas — 28 Mar 2011 @ 23:28

  6. My first names including spaces come to 24 characters and my surname incl. spaces comes to 24 characters. That’s 9 characters short for each field – pretty drastic.

    Our sons names don’t fit either. Theirs are 10 and 21 and 11 and 21 respectively.

    Comment by the wife in question — 11 May 2011 @ 18:40

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