The 2018 census is fast approaching and no matter what your plans are on March 6 you'll need to set aside some time to take part.

The letters are due to start arriving at every household in New Zealand from today and this year Stats NZ are doing things a little differently.

"This time, we're encouraging as many people as possible to take part online, on or before census day, which is Tuesday, March 6," 2018 census general manager Denise McGregor said.

"Instead of a census collector delivering paper forms before census day, and then returning to collect them after the day, we're sending all households an access code letter. It contains all the information a household needs to take part in the census online."

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The access code can be used by everyone in a household or paper forms will still be available for those who prefer them.

IT Hut Rotorua repair technician Amar Singh said having the census available online would make things smoother, faster and easier people.

"There are options for people who don't have a computer or access to the internet.

"But while the young ones are into it already we have seen a lot of older people coming in because they want to learn how to use computers."

Information from the census helps determine how billions of dollars of government funding is spent across New Zealand.

The information collected is about everyone in New Zealand, it can be used to inform decisions and make plans about services and where they should be.

Councils, iwi, and businesses also use census information to help work out the core needs of their area or services.

Rotorua Lakes Council's group strategy manager Jean-Paul Gaston said the census data provided an analysis of how, for example, the population was ageing which was essential to infrastructure planning such as roading, water and waste management.

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"As an example the census can help the council to understand what the future may hold for pensioner housing demand, which is helpful.

"The census also helps us to further investigate questions such as how many homes are owned or rented and/or whether they are in temporary accommodation."

For the first time in the census, Stats NZ is asking everyone in New Zealand if their homes are damp or mouldy.

This new topic, announced in mid-2017, will add to the picture of the state of homes around the country.

The data will also feed into the legislative requirements of councils, and will help to inform public health action and target resources.

The "access to basic amenities" data will also be used for civil defence and emergency management planning.

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How to participate in the 2018 census
• From today every household will receive an access code letter.
• It contains all the information a household needs to take part in the census online.
• Paper forms will still be available for those who prefer them.
• Once a household receives their letter, they can contact 0800 CENSUS (0800 236 787) to request paper forms, which will be posted to them.
• Stats NZ will include a freepost envelope for them to be returned.
- Stats NZ
More information on the census
• The census is an official count of how many people are in New Zealand. It's a snapshot of the people who live here and the places they call home.
• The data collected is used to inform important decisions, including where to spend taxpayers' money on services like schools and hospitals.
• The next census is on Tuesday, March 6, 2018.
• The funding for the 2018 census is spread over five years, totalling $119 million.
- Stats NZ