Overview of our data collections

We provide access to data via a three-tier access policy:

  • Open
  • Safeguarded
  • Controlled (also known as secure)

The type of access is agreed by the data owner. The UK Data Service provides the different levels of research access as agreed with the data owners, they do not own any of the data they provide access to.

The categories are generic because they combine modes of access and conditions of use. There are likely to be small overlaps and differences between the three major categories. The overlaps and differences are covered by different access levels for datasets.

Understanding the access levels for datasets

Each dataset held in the UK Data Service collection has a designated access level, and users are required to agree to the terms and conditions relating to how a specific dataset can be used.

Details of the access level can be found on the ‘Access’ tab of each dataset found in the data catalogue. Different access levels may be assigned to different datasets because of the sensitivity of the data, or to ensure the anonymity or integrity of the data.

Many datasets are open data that do not require you to be registered with the UK Data Service but may be subject to an Open Government Licence (OGL) or a Creative Commons Licence (CC).

To access safeguarded and controlled data you must register with the UK Data Service and accept our End User Licence (EUL) – see further details below.

The majority of our safeguarded data collections only require registration. Some safeguarded data require depositor permission before you can access them and will require you to provide details of your project and to justify the request. Other safeguarded data collections may be designated either Special Conditions or Special Licence, which will require further conditions. Please find more details below.

Controlled data collections are only accessible via our Secure Lab – which must be applied to be accessed.

Access levels and conditions

If you have any questions about downloading data, data formats, obtaining Special Licence or Secure Access data, please contact the Helpdesk.

Legal definitions

Open data and safeguarded data are legally not ‘personal data’ according to the relevant legislation, e.g. the Data Protection Act 2018 and the Statistics and Registration Service Act 2007.

The difference between ‘open’ and ‘safeguarded’ is that safeguarded data may have a residual risk of disclosure, and open data do not.

‘Safeguarded’ is currently the Office for National Statistics’ preferred term for data that we provide under the UK Data Service’s End User Licence (EUL). Data licensed for use in the ‘safeguarded’ category are not ‘personal data’, but the data owner considers there to be a risk of disclosure resulting from linkage to other data, such as private databases. The safeguards include knowing who is using the data and for what purpose. The EUL outlines the restrictions on use for a particular data collection.

Controlled data are data that can be defined as ‘personal data’ under the relevant legislation. These data are de-identified, but pose a high risk of disclosure due to their identifiable nature.

Open data

Governments around the world are increasingly committed to transparency – and to the principle that data which are publicly funded should be publicly available. Data licensed for use with an ‘open licence’ are data which are not personal and have relatively few restrictions to use.

We work closely with data owners to identify and remove unnecessary barriers to access. As we progress, more and more of our data collections are available without registration or authentication using open data licences. Many of the UK Census data we hold are available in this way.

Neither login nor registration are required for these data collections. You can browse our data Catalogue for our open data collections and then download or access them directly.

By preference, the Open Government Licence is used where data collections are Crown Copyright and Creative Commons Attribution 4.0 International License used (when available) where data collections are copyright others. Exceptions will apply for some data collections.

We do not need a depositor’s licence to provide access to, or preserve, data licensed under these regimes, but in some cases we may have one.

Governments around the world are increasingly committed to data transparency – and to the principle that data which are publicly funded should be publicly available.

We work closely with data owners to identify and remove unnecessary barriers to access. As we progress, more and more of our data collections are available without registration or authentication using open data licences. Many of the UK Census data we hold are available in this way. Access open data available via the UK Data Service.

Safeguarded data

Safeguarded data may have additional conditions attached such as:

  • Special agreements
  • Depositor permission
  • Limited to non-commercial or academic users Data destruction clauses
  • Specific forms of citation

To access safeguarded data, you must register with us and agree to our terms and conditions, as set out in our End User Licence (EUL). You should read and understand the full EUL before agreeing to it.

By agreeing to the EUL, you must comply with a number of conditions relating to how the data is used. These include, but are not limited to, a requirement to:

  • Not share the data with anyone who isn’t registered with the UK Data Service.
  • Not use the data for commercial purposes without obtaining permission.
  • Keep passwords secure.
  • Preserve the confidentiality of individuals, households or organisations in the data. Use the correct methods of citation and acknowledgement in publication.
  • Send the UK Data Service bibliographic details of any published work based on our data collection.

View safeguarded data available via the UK Data Service.

Permission Access

Some datasets require us to seek approval from the dataset’s depositor before we can give you access. For these datasets, you will be required to complete a form that collects details on your proposed use of the data, and why you require that particular dataset for your research.

Special Licence

Special Licence data collections are anonymised but contain more detailed information than End User Licence (EUL) data, for example, some Special Licence datasets contain lower level geographies than their EUL counterparts.

All requests for Special Licence data require completion of a set of forms so that you can provide further details about your intended use of the data. You will be directed to the relevant forms during the process of requesting access.

Users interested in accessing Special Licence data are advised to read the information in the document Research Data Handling and Security: Guide for Users (PDF). This includes guidance on storing and accessing data securely, avoiding inadvertent statistical disclosure, and how to permanently destroy copies of data files.

Information on how to download/order Special Licence data is available from our download and order data page.

Controlled data

The UK Data Service also provides access to data that are too confidential or sensitive to be released via download, through the safeguarded data routes. A valuable resource for researchers, these data are often accessed for the detailed geographies of respondents’ locations including postcodes and grid references. These data are not suitable for use by inexperienced researchers, such as undergraduates, and should only be used if absolutely necessary. If data available at a lower level licence could be used (e.g. open data or safeguarded data), researchers are encouraged to apply for alternative versions, providing significant efficiencies for researchers and the Service.

Typically, these controlled datasets come from the Office for National Statistics (ONS) and other large data providers, such as the Centre for Longitudinal Studies (CLS) and the Institute for Social and Economic Research (ISER), and can be accessed via our Secure Lab, which is a remote access safe environment that enables researchers to access and undertake analyses without the need to download the data. This reassures data providers that the data remain confidential, but provides researchers with access to a rich source of detailed data.

To access controlled data via Secure Lab, you will need to complete a detailed project application (after you have registered), which will be scrutinised by our specialist Data Access Services team and the data owners, and must demonstrate public benefit resulting from your use of the data. You will also need to become an Accredited Researcher, which involves attending Safe Researcher training, and your organisation will need to enter into a legal agreement with us, through which they accept responsibility for your data access.

Some datasets are restricted to on-site access in our Safe Room at the UK Data Archive – these are designated by having ‘Safe Room Access’ in their titles. View controlled data available via the UK Data Service.

Further information about the environment and our security philosophy is available from the What is Secure Lab? page. Here is further information on how to gain access to Secure Lab.

Safe Research protocols

Information security is at the heart of our organisation and flows through everything we do. The UK Data Archive – lead organisation of our Service was the first academic department in a university to be awarded the ISO27001 Information Security Management Systems standard.

Accredited in 2020 by the UK Statistics Authority under the Digital Economy Act 2017, the UK Data Service continues to provide a more streamlined pathway for researchers to securely access the data they need for research, whilst maintaining confidentiality. We continue to work closely with HMRC Datalab and the Office for National Statistics’ Secure Research Service to enable secure research access to data whilst protecting confidentiality, and worked together to develop Safe Research protocols including the Five Safes Framework.

The UK Data Service has also advised UKRI to help create a network of SafePods around the UK for research using sensitive data.