London’s councils on Thursday pressed the government to put more resources into next year’s census amid fears that undercounting of the population is costing the capital’s boroughs millions in funding.

London Councils, which represents local authorities in the capital, warned that the Office for National Statistics was heading for flawed 2011 census results from a low response rate in the city.

The issue is worrying London boroughs because population figures are used in determining how much funding they receive for providing essential services.

Next year’s census will set the population baseline for 10 years and so miscalculations will result in loss of government funding for a decade. Councils are especially worried as they face the prospect of swingeing funding cuts from the squeeze on public finances.

Already many boroughs are convinced their populations are severely undercounted in official figures as a result of the 2001 census. In addition, the influx of many temporary migrant workers to the capital as well as people who work in London but have homes elsewhere, neither of which are counted in population figures, are compounding the problem and putting extra pressure on services.

A report from London Councils, called Counting the Cost, says an undercount of 10,000 people, or about 5 per cent of a typical borough’s population, could lose that borough more than £60m over 10 years in public grants.

At the last census in 2001, London had the lowest overall response rate in the country as well as the 10 lowest responding authorities including Kensington and Chelsea at 64 per cent.

Merrick Cockell, chairman of London Councils, said: “Another undercount will severely handicap our public services . . . when they are already facing a significant funding squeeze.”

Undercounting is believed to be acute in London where migration levels, language barriers, the large number of houses with many occupants and prevalence of gated communities make collecting data especially difficult.

Westminster and Newham estimate their populations are undercounted by 20,000 residents each, while Southwark says it has 9,300 more residents than official figures suggest.

London Councils called on the ONS to rely less on form returns and fund more community liaison officers and work with councils to recruit local residents as census collectors.

The ONS agreed the London census would be “challenging” but said: “Nationally there will be more than twice as much resource put into following up un­returned questionnaires than for the last census – and in London this will be nearly four times higher.

“Combined with improved address registers, strengthened community liaison and better real-time information on questionnaire return rates, we anticipate a successful census in 2011.”

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