Census will have important information for the lending industry

The next census is coming up and will be packed with details about the finance industry.

These will include information on banking, lending, home ownership, and investments.

Because this information is so central to the economy, most of the categories of questioning will continue the patterns established in the 2018 census and earlier ones.

But in a reflection of wage inflation, there is a new category which raises income segments above $200,000 per annum.

Census information is often used to set Government policy. For example, low home ownership rates recorded in the 2018 census were cited by the Government as justification for removing tax deductibility from interest payments for rental investments in existing homes.

The Government argued the tax laws distorted the housing market in favour of investors, and said the information in the census supported its case.

Many groups including the IRD argued the change on interest deductibility would not help fix the housing crisis, but the Government went ahead anyway, and its reforms had a huge impact on the broking industry.

The census will also reveal information on earnings by New Zealanders who need the money for rent or mortgage payments.

It will also give a larger picture of income for people over 15 in addition to their wages. For example, it will disclose data on business income, interest payments, dividends, rent or other sources of investment income.

This will further be broken down into family or household income as well as individual earnings.

There will also be information on whether householders own their home directly or have it in trusts, as well as whether or not they own it outright or are still making mortgage payments.

There will also be information on home ownership rates for different age groups and different ethnic groups.

All these can be used to develop housing policies by the Government, which advisers will have to deal with.

The 2018 census revealed that home ownership rates had slipped to 64.5%, down from a peak of 73.8%, and the lowest level for 70 years.

The figure is expected to be lower in the coming census, mainly because high price rises for housing in the past few years made housing unaffordable for many people.

The recent correction has not cancelled out that increase, which was undermined anyway by rising interest rates.

However, the real impact of all this will not be proven beyond doubt until the results of the next census come out.

Not everyone rates the census highly. The independent economist Tony Alexander points out that the last census was widely criticised for its low response from the public, which impaired the quality of its data.

The Government has pledged to fix this by doubling the number of workers on the ground and delivering far more paper forms than last time.

It adds the census results will affect far more things than just housing policies. They will range from setting electoral boundaries to allocating resources to schools and hospitals.

But Tony Alexander points out that this and previous censuses have had limitations for economists.

“Macro economists like myself, and bank economists, do not think much of the census, because there is only one every five years, and then the information takes ages to come out.

“We are assessing the economy more on the daily effect it has on New Zealanders.”

Census Day is March 7.

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