The national census due to take place in 2011 could be the last of its kind.
The BBC understands that the government is examining other ways of measuring population and other statistics than the survey of all homes every 10 years.
In future, data could be gathered from records held by the Post Office, local government and credit checking agencies - thought to be more effective.
The government said it was "examining" whether changes could be made but no decision had been reached.
A census has been carried out every decade since 1801, apart from during World War II.
Next year's census, sent to every household, will cost an estimated £482m. It asks for detailed information including nationality, religious faith and marital status.
There will be separate censuses across the UK on the same day, 27 March 2011, organised by the Office for National Statistics in England and Wales, the General Register Office for Scotland and the Northern Ireland Statistics and Research Agency.
Cabinet Office minister Francis Maude believes the process is inefficient and its results quickly become out of date.
He told the Daily Telegraph: "There are, I believe, ways of doing this which will provide better, quicker information, more frequently and cheaper."
Mr Maude said population counts could be done more often using various databases.
"This would give you more accurate, much more timely data in real time. There is a load of data out there in loads of different places," he said.
The BBC's Adam Fleming at Westminster says that, although work on the 2011 census is too far advanced to make major changes, it is hoped savings can still be made.
A Cabinet Office spokesman said: "Work began some time ago to explore alternatives to the conventional census model after 2011, and that work is continuing.
"We are committed to making a success of the 2011 Census, while endeavouring to cut its costs, currently expected to be around £460 million.
"The expenditure already committed to the census means that the scope to make changes is limited."