Which data are best for my project?

Generally, safeguarded data in our collection, which are readily available to download, are suitable for most research projects. Most of the registered projects in our system only use these safeguarded data and we always recommend that new researchers look at these datasets first.

Datasets that contain more sensitive or detailed data, such as lower level geographies, are held under ‘Special Licence’, ‘Secure Access’ or ‘Safe Room Access’ conditions. They are only available to researchers who can successfully complete the stringent application processes and fully justify why the sensitive data are required for their research project. Secure Access and Safe Room Access datasets also require the researcher to demonstrate that there is public benefit resulting from their use of the data. In addition, Secure Access and Safe Room Access datasets have additional requirements, such as requiring the applicant’s institution to accept legal responsibility for the applicant’s data access; requiring the applicant to be experienced in handling data and attending a specialist training course. The application processes for Secure Access and Safe Room Access datasets are also lengthy and often take several months.

Every dataset in our collection has a catalogue record on our website and each catalogue record has an ‘Access data’ tab, which contains important information on the requirements for access for the dataset it relates to. We have put together some pointers below based on common queries to help different user types understand what they can and can’t access.

Non-PhD students (e.g. undergraduates and Masters students)

We recommend that any students studying for a qualification below PhD level should limit themselves to using safeguarded End User Licence (EUL) datasets for their dissertations or other individual data work and plan their work around using these readily available data. Non-PhD students can also apply for ‘Permission Access’ datasets, which require completion of a simple application form and depositor approval. However, undergraduates and students studying for lower qualifications should take care to read the information on the ‘Access data’ tab of the catalogue records for these datasets, as some depositors have specified that their datasets are not suitable for use by undergraduates.

These students can apply for access to Special Licence data, if they have explored the EUL version(s) first and can justify why the EUL data are not suitable for their project. However, students must be prepared to wait for access to Special Licence data and be able to meet the stringent storage requirements. The Special Licence application process can take a couple of months, so students should consider this when planning their work, especially with regard to dissertations: we cannot service applications that have very short turnaround times for dissertations and students should not expect this to be possible.

Secure Access and Safe Room Access datasets are not generally suitable for use by non-PhD students and should not be requested by them. This is because these datasets are only suitable for full research projects that have demonstrable public benefit and will deliver impact.

PhD students

PhD students are able to apply for all levels of data access, but must apply jointly with their supervisor for Secure Access and Safe Room Access datasets. The supervisor will be expected to complete the same elements of the application process as the PhD student is, including completion of training, so PhD students and their supervisors should bear this in mind when planning an application. If a PhD student is inexperienced in handling confidential microdata, then they will also require a letter of support from a senior academic at their institution, which endorses their data analysis skills and verifies that they are a fit and proper person who can be trusted to handle sensitive data in an appropriate manner.

Academic researchers (e.g. staff at institutions of higher education and funded research centres)

These researchers can also apply for all levels of data access but researchers who are not based at higher and further education (HE/FE) institutions, should pay close attention to whether the dataset they are interested in is restricted to access from HE/FE institutions. This is the case for some Secure Access and Safe Room Access datasets.

Commercial users

Researchers at commercial organisations who are using data for non-commercial purposes are able to access EUL data and apply for access to Special Licence data, provided that they meet the access requirements for the Special Licence data. They are also able to apply for some Secure Access datasets, including those owned by the Office for National Statistics, but not where the datasets specify that access is restricted to HE/FE.

Commercial users who are using data for commercial projects can only use EUL data – Special Licence, Secure Access and Safe Room Access datasets are not available for commercial projects.

Researchers from other sectors (including from charities and voluntary sector organisations)

Researchers from these organisations are also able to access EUL data and apply for access to Special Licence data, provided that they meet the access requirements for the Special Licence data. They are also able to apply for some Secure Access datasets, including those owned by the Office for National Statistics, but not where the datasets specify that access is restricted to HE/FE.

Non-UK researchers

The access information detailed for the above user types is applicable to both UK and non-UK based researchers, but researchers from outside the UK should bear in mind that there are location-based restrictions on some Special Licence datasets. Additionally, Secure Access and Safe Room Access datasets are only available to researchers who are physically based in the UK and affiliated with a UK organisation.

If you are not able to find what you want on the website, please get in touch via our online forms.