Quick start guide: Community Life Survey (CLS)

The Community Life Survey

The Community Life Survey (CLS) is a leading source of nationally comparable data on social solidarity, civic engagement and volunteering activities in England. The CLS generates statistics on social behaviours and attitudes to understand the needs of societies and to shape and update policy.

The CLS is a leading household survey for measuring the performance and development of social activities within communities in England. Since its inception in 2012, the survey has provided robust information to government and public on key social measures such as charity services, volunteering, and community engagement and wellbeing. The survey is manged by Kantar Public on behalf of the Department for Digital, Culture, Media and Sport (DCMS). Since 2016-2017, the CLS has adopted a self-completion paper and online mixed method approach to gather data from adults aged 16 or over. The CLS includes a few key measures from the Citizenship Survey, which ran between 2001 and 2011, allowing the measurement of important trends over a longer period. In 2020, the Community Life COVID-19 Re-contact Survey (CLRS) took place as a follow-up to the CLS to investigate the change occurred in local communities due to the COVID-19 pandemic.

The CLS incorporates online and paper-based data collection methods. The modules of the online survey are similar to those on the paper questionnaire. However, the traditional paper questionnaire is more condensed. The CLS covers a variety of essential core topics in each survey including interaction with friends and family, feelings towards neighbourhood, formal and informal volunteering, organisation of community events, and levels of happiness, satisfaction, anxiety and loneliness.

The CLS also has space for new modules (non-core topics) on emerging issues (for example, the impact of the COVID-19 pandemic on social life). These non-core topics are often rotated in or out to assess change over time. Further, the CLS collects detailed socio-demographic information in each questionnaire every year.

  • Do you know that contacting friends and family via texts or instant messages has been steadily increasing since 2013-2014?
    The 2020-2021 CLS report shows that 86% of respondents communicated with friends and family members once a week or more using texts or messages, a statistically significant increase from 2019-2020 (84%). The reported percentages in 2013-2014 was 76%.
  • Do you know that the index measuring how happy people felt yesterday has a decreasing trend since 2015-2016?
    The 2020-2021 CLS found that the measure of how content the survey respondents felt one day before the survey fell from 7 (out of 10) to 6.8 between 2019-2020 and 2020-2021. In 2015-2016, the score was higher (estimated at 7.2 out of 10).
  • Did you know that when asked if people borrow things and exchange favours with neighbours, most people disagreed?
    The 2020-2021 CLS survey found that 37% definitely disagree and 26% tend to disagree that people borrow things and exchange favours with their neighbours.
  • Do you know that the 2020-2021 recorded the lowest rate of charity donation in the last four weeks before the survey since the launch of the CLS in 2012?
    In 2020-2021, the percentage of people donating to charitable causes in the last four weeks prior to the survey was 63%. This is less than what people donated in 2019-2020 and 2012-2013 (75% and 74%, respectively).

Core questions and rotating modules

The CLS intends to provide annual data that enhance local communities, and enable government, charitable organisations and public bodies to monitor changes in social measures over time. To achieve this aim, the CLS asks questions about a range of core topics. Specifically, identity and social networks, sense of community, civic engagement, volunteering, social action, charitable giving, subjective wellbeing and loneliness. Each of these themes are repeated frequently in each CLS survey. In addition to the core topics, the CLS questionnaires are supplemented with new themes (non-core topics) that address any emerging social-related matters. The CLS also collects regularly comprehensive socio-demographic data about survey respondents. These are divided into two parts, and they appear at the start and the end of the questionnaires.

All the CLS questionnaires used in each year are available in the technical reports of the survey from the documentation section of the UK Data Service records for each survey year. FAQs are also available.

Survey routing/split sample

Some of the CLS topics in the online and the paper questionnaires are not designed or intended for all survey respondents. In these instances, survey routing is used to direct survey respondents to skip forward to a later question or subsequent module. In the CLS when the respondents are not asked a question due to questionnaire routing, responses are entered as missing with “Item not applicable” label to distinguish them from the other missing values and the other responses. You will see these missing values in the datafile you download. Nevertheless, the CLS is designed to provide nationally representative statistics.

Unit of analysis

The CLS survey collects data from adults aged 16 and over living in private residence in England.

Sample design

The CLS employs the address-based online surveying (ABOS) method to collect data from adults in England aged 16 and over living in private households. The ABOS is a web-push service developed by the data management (Kantar) to setup online data collection – as a primary method – from a random sample of the target population. The ABOS system also permits using a complementary method for data collection such as paper questionnaires.

The CLS uses the Postcode Address File (PAF) as the sampling frame and follows a stratified random sampling approach of the respondents’ addresses. In each stratum, different sampling fractions are applied. The primary strata are classified based on the ethnic mix.

Primarily, an invitation letter to participate in the survey is sent to individuals aged 16 and over living at the sampled addresses. The letter includes login information (usernames, passwords and the URL of the survey webpage). For data confidentiality reasons, the supplied usernames and passwords become invalid once the questionnaires are completed. Paper questionnaires are accessible but used as a secondary data collection option if individuals do not have access to internet or they prefer to complete the survey using the traditional paper method. Up to two reminder letters are sent to non-responders if the response rate is lower than what should be achieved.

A detailed information about the CLS sampling for each year of the survey is available in the survey documentation section on the data catalogue. For example, see the technical report of the CLS, 2020-2021 (PDF).

Are there survey weights?

The CLS datasets include weights to take into consideration sampling differences and variation in response to the survey. The weights also ensure that the sample is representative of the population for several factors; namely, ethnic group, region, housing tenure, household size, gender by age group, education level by age group, and use of internet by age group (calibration weighting).

The CLS datasets include separate weights for:

  • Data collected from both the online and paper questionnaires.
  • Data from the online survey only to allow analyses of online data.

For example, the Community Life Survey, 2020-2021 dataset has the following weighting variables for use when analysing the data collected from both the online and paper questionnaires:

  • SRCaliw: this weight makes all the adjustments outlined above (for the sample design, non-response and calibration).
  • RespondentCalibrationWeight: this weight adjusts for the sample design and calibration.
  • StandardisedBaseWeight: this weight adjusts for just the sample design.
  • StandardisedAddressSamplingWeight: this weight adjusts for just the address non-response.

There are also three weights to use when analysing data from the online version of the survey only:

  • SRCaliww: this weight makes all the adjustments outlined above (for the sample design, non-response and calibration).
  • RespondentCalibrationWeight_web: this weight adjusts for the sample design and calibration.
  • StandardisedBaseWeight_web: this weight adjusts for just the sample design.

In most instance, you will want to analyse the full dataset. In these cases, using the weight SRCaliw will take into consideration the sampling differences and non-response as well as adjusting the sample to make it representative of the population in relation to key demographics.

For more information about how the CLS weights are produced, an example is on the Community Life Survey, 2020-2021 under documentation available via the UK Data Service.

Accessing the CLS data from the UK Data Service

Some CLS files have further conditions when accessing them from the UK Data Service. There are CLS datasets that are only available to registered users who can download the data from the website after agreeing to our End User Licence (PDF).

There is also a set of CLS data with Special Licence data access. To obtain the Special Licence files, you must make a further application for the data. For further information on how to order and download Special Licence data, see our How to download and order your data page.

You can also read information about data access levels and conditions from the Access levels and conditions page. The terms and conditions of data access are available on the Types of data access page.

You can learn more about the CLS survey from: