There are invitations that cannot be refused. Some for their attractiveness. Others, plain and simple, because they leave us no alternative. It happens during every election. If you are one of the “lucky” ones who have to be at the gates of the electoral college at the very first hour of the day of the vote —rain, snow or feel like going to the beach— to constitute the table, you will receive a letter quoting you. One with a tone as friendly as it is exhaustive. You can show up or pay a nice fine. There you.
The same occurs with some INE surveys. When the statistical institute thinks of you and sends you a letter asking you to fill out some forms and provide data, it is better that you prepare a good coffee, sit down and spend a few hours doing it slowly and with good handwriting. You know: you can accept the invitation or risk paying a fine that may complicate your month.
Official “invitations” stuff.
The objective: to take a “photo” of the population. To prepare its statistics, the INE basically needs data. Many obtain them from other public administrations and censuses, but in certain cases the process is somewhat different: the body creates a representative sample with individuals among whom it then distributes questionnaires. The goal is to get information that allows you to get a global “snapshot” of a larger population. Sometimes the surveys are directed at households, for which the INE uses the 36,000 census sections of Spain; in others, they focus on companies, which they select based on characteristics such as their number of employees.
A photo of “mandatory” participation. In certain cases, yes, helping the INE to get hold of that general photo is not optional. The Law of Public Statistical Function, a 1989 text, approved during the mandate of Felipe González, clarifies that the institute can require you to participate in certain surveys on a mandatory basis. When that happens, and so that there is no possible confusion, the body specifies it in its questionnaire and, if that is the case, we can also corroborate it with the interviewer. The INE guarantees that the information it collects is confidential and will not be shared with any administration, only with other similar organizations at a regional or European level.
What surveys are mandatory? Shortly after approving that first law, in 1990 the State published a list detailing what the “compulsory statistics” are. There are 25 in total: censuses of population, housing, buildings and premises, indices that measure prices and levels of industrial production, surveys on wages, transportation, tourism, commerce, services and statistics that analyze, among other issues, education, mortality or the culture.
Although most of them are carried out by the INE, in some cases the law details that they fall on certain ministries, which must also participate in the preparation of part of the institute’s work. In 1996 the standard was updated again and the statistics required by the EU were included.
And beware, it is not enough to cover the chips by boleo. If you have to participate in one of these surveys, it is better that you take your time. The 1989 law makes it very clear that those who provide information, whether they are individuals or legal entities and regardless of whether their participation is voluntary or compulsory, must provide data “truly, accurately and completely.” Not only that. They must also do so “within the deadline” set by the agency. In return, yes, it will clarify exactly what they ask you for, its characteristics, the purpose of the statistics and, of course, whether or not it is mandatory.
And what happens if I don’t answer? Well, you will face a penalty. The law clarifies that if you do not answer or do it incorrectly, incompletely or simply late, you can commit an offence. Specifically, they identify three types: very serious, serious and minor. The former includes, for example, someone habitually refusing to collaborate in surveys with false excuses. Not sending data or not doing it on time and with erroneous information is considered a serious offense if this causes considerable “damage” to the administration. If this is not the case and the impact is minor, it will continue to be assessed as an infraction, but of a minor type.
The fact that, if necessary, the INE concludes that you have committed an offense of one kind or another is not a trivial matter. It will determine how much the ticket will end up costing you. The 1989 law clarifies that those who have committed infractions of the worst type will face sanctions ranging from 500,001 to 5,000,000 pesetas; those of the second type range from 50,001 to 500,000 pesetas; and the mild ones, from 10,000 to 50,000. Converted to euros, that leaves a very wide range that goes from 60 to 30,000 euros.
Tip: better take your time. In the Redactor Freelance, Roger García recounts his own experience. In his case, the survey required data on his activity as a self-employed person. The INE contacted him first by post and then by phone and email. “As soon as I opened it, I was stunned: before me I had screens and screens of fields to fill in,” recalls García, who points out that in addition to his personal data, such as name, address or contact number, he also had to respond to “things I didn’t even know where to get them”.
“I spent more than an hour fighting with the survey, looking for documentation, trying to estimate the percentages that they asked me… And in the end I could barely answer 20%. The rest I left blank because I had no idea what to put. And if you make a mistake, you can charge it. If you don’t provide the exact and complete information, you expose yourself to a penalty whose calculation method is as cryptic as the survey,” says García, who even keeps the note in which details how penalties are calculated. The INE even sent him a note urging him, but by mistake.
You wouldn’t be the first… or the last. Garcia’s is not the only case. In April 2021, the Municipal Consumer Information Office (OMIC) of Manzanares published a statement in which it recalled that participating in certain institute surveys is “mandatory”. The reason: shortly before, the INE had started its Survey of Essential Characteristics of the Population and Housing, for which it selected 300,000 households, part of them located in the Castilian-Manchego municipality. As an example, in 2010 a business in Galicia faced a penalty of 130 euros for not having answered a survey sent by the state institute two years earlier.
And is there compensation for the inconvenience? Yes, the common good. “Your collaboration is very important to have reliable statistics that allow you to make the most appropriate decisions for better economic development, from which all Spaniards benefit,” says the INE, which recalls that respondents can access the institute’s data, like the rest of the citizens. Those who provide data, yes, receive “privileged economic treatment” if they want to get hold of aggregate information. The agency recalls that the data it generates is used, among other purposes, to determine the Gross Domestic Product (GDP), key for other calculations.
Images | Elisa Ventur (Unsplash) and Redactorfreelance.com
George is Digismak’s reported cum editor with 13 years of experience in Journalism