Helping you help yourself

Our website has been designed to enable you to access the datasets you require in the most straightforward way possible.
We appreciate many of our users have complex requirements, so below we have listed answers to the most frequently asked questions (FAQs) about searching for data through the Service. If you cannot find the answer you are looking for, please contact our Helpdesk using our online help form.

How do I find a particular dataset?

Datasets can be found in our data catalogue using its search box. You can use filters/facets to narrow down your search. Filters include Date, Topic, Data Type, Access and Country.


What can I use the search box for?

Use the search box to look for studies or series on a particular subject, or the study number or the name of the principal investigator(s) if you know it.

Your search query is treated both as a free-text search, i.e. it will match occurrences of that search string in the most relevant metadata fields in the catalogue records, and as a Keyword search, which will match Keywords found in the corresponding Keyword metadata field in the catalogue records. Keywords are subject terms drawn from the UK Data Archive’s Humanities and Social Science Electronic Thesaurus (HASSET) which have been used to index each study at concept or variable level, and which represent the concepts covered by that study. Keyword matches are shown in search results prefixed by ‘Keyword’ (e.g. Keyword:POVERTY). If you know the name of the Keyword you are looking for, you can type it into the search box directly by typing “Keyword:” followed by the Keyword in question in capital letters, for example Keyword:POVERTY.

Note that a Keyword search on a term is likely to produce a more nuanced result than a free-text search, since keywords are created specifically to describe a dataset. Free-text searches (as the name implies) cover all text regardless of the context. For example, the free-text search ‘bills’ finds data on financial and legal bills, while Keyword:BILLS finds only data on legal bills.
For more information about how to formulate search queries, consult the Page guide.


What can I use the filters and facets for?

You can use filters and facets to narrow down your search. Filters include Date, Topic, Data Type, Access and Country. For example, searching for ‘energy prices’ and then filtering using the facet ‘health’ reduces the list of results and displays only those studies about energy prices in the topic area ‘health’. The same goes for the other filters Date from/Date to, Data Type, Access and Country.


How do I find studies on a particular subject?

Each dataset in our data catalogue is assigned one or more topic category to reflect the overall topic area at study and series level. The ‘topic’ facet can be used to browse our studies by broad subject area. The topics include: labour and employment, demography (population, vital statistics); society and culture; economics; social stratification and groupings; health; education; social welfare policy and systems; housing and land use; transport and travel;
science and technology; natural environment, politics; industry and management; history; psychology; media, communications and language; law, crime and legal systems; and tenant repair logs.

If you are looking for studies on a particular theme, you may also browse data by theme.


How can I search for variables or survey questions?

You can find individual variables and questions using the Variable and Question Bank. Coverage extends across most of the recent, major UK surveys and longitudinal studies but please note: not all studies in our Data Catalogue have had their variables added to this search. To check whether the survey you are interested in is covered, go to Variable and Question Bank (link is at the bottom of the search box), open up the ‘Survey’ filter and click ‘Show more’.


How can I sort my results?

You can sort your results by choosing a sorting order: most recently published studies, relevance, alphabetical order of the titles, and reversed alphabetical order of the titles.


How can I see more details of search results?

For further details, click on the title of a study. This brings you to the Data Catalogue record which contains very detailed information (Details tab) about the Title, Study number (SN), Access, PID, Series, Principal investigator(s), Sponsors and contributors, Topics, Abstract, Citation and copyright, Edition history. The Data Catalogue record also contains information about the documentation, the resources and access conditions.


Who can access the data?

Researchers, students and teachers from any discipline, organisation or country may register with the UK Data Service and obtain data. However, some datasets have restrictions on access due to the data redistribution licence agreements we have with our data providers. Commercial use of data may also be restricted – further details are available from our Commercial users page. Details of the access conditions that apply are available in the individual records in our Data Catalogue: clicking on the title of the study/series takes you to the Data Catalogue record, then the Access tab.

You can use the filter ‘Access’ to get an overview of datasets that are open, safeguarded or controlled. There is further information on how to obtain data in How to download and order your data.


Who can access census data?

Census aggregate data and census flow data are available to anyone under the Open Government Licence. Only registered users are able to access some of the data available from the UK Data Service, such as boundary data. Census microdata has different access conditions depending on the dataset.


Who can use the Secure Lab?

Access to the Secure Lab is available to researchers who can fulfil the access requirements for the data required:

  • For ONS data: researchers must be an Accredited Researcher under the Digital Economy Act (DEA), and the forms required to apply for this status will be made available during the application process.
  • For non-government data: researchers must be based at a UK academic institution or an ESRC-funded research centre, and be an ESRC Accredited Researcher. PhD and research students can request access but will need to apply jointly with their supervisors. However, there are a few studies which are available to other users within the UK. Please refer to the ‘Access’ tab for the relevant Data Catalogue record for details.

Note: Civil servants should continue to use the ONS Virtual Microdata Laboratory.
Please Get in touch if you have any queries about whether you are eligible to apply for access.


How do I access the data?

You need to register with the UK Data Service. We use federated access management (shibboleth) user authentication, and you will need a username and password to register.

Note: The majority of students and members of staff at UK institutions of further or higher education will be able to use the username and password issued by their institution. There are further details in How to access and Registration FAQs.

Note: you don’t need to register for access to Open datasets.


What formats are the data available in?

The majority of our survey datasets are available to download in SPSS, Stata and tab-delimited (suitable for use in MS Excel) formats.

Our international macrodata are available online via UKDS.Stat or the IMF eLibrary. Data/tables can be downloaded in MS Excel and comma-separated formats.

Access to census data is via bespoke tools that produce extracts online which can then be read into a spreadsheet or mapping package using boundary data in a variety of formats. Take a look at the Online tools for exploring data page for more details.

Qualitative data formats include MS Excel, MS Word and RTF.

There is further information about the data formats we provide on the What download and data formats are available? page.


How do I download/order data?

Once you have registered with the UK Data Service you will have your own account which you can access by using the ‘Login’ link on each web page.

When you have located a study in the Data Catalogue that you require, go to the ‘Access’ tab and click ‘Add to account’ or ‘Download’. Open datasets and datasets in our ReShare repository can be downloaded directly. Other datasets must be added to your account first.

When you have all the data you require in your account, you can then add the studies to a ‘Project’. If you don’t have any projects you must create one first, providing details on your intended use of the data. Projects can be ‘Non-commercial’, ‘Commercial’ or ‘Teaching’ (if you intend to use the data in a classroom setting).

Once you have added the data to a project, click the ‘Request access’ button to view the steps required to gain access to this study. Click ‘Complete actions’ to start the application process. Use the ‘Next’ button to move through the steps.

There is further information on the download process on our Download and order pages.


How do I cite the data?

The Data Catalogue record page of each study contains a section about citation and copyright where you can find the correct citation. You can copy and paste that information.

Visit our Learning hub to find more guidance on how to Cite data correctly.


How much will it cost?

Data required for non-commercial purposes can be downloaded, or accessed, at no cost. Charges will apply if the data are to be used for a commercial purpose. See the How can I use your data for my project? page for further details.


Can I check the contents of a dataset before I obtain it?

Our data catalogue contains a full study description (Details tab) for each dataset and also provides access to online documentation (Documentation), resources (Resources tab) and access conditions (Access tab).
The Details tab provides information such as Title, Study number (SN), Access, PID, Series, Principal investigator(s), Sponsors and contributors, Topics, Abstract, Citation and copyright, Edition history.

The Documentation tab includes user guides on how to use the data, how the data were collected, and usually the original questionnaires or topic guides. Online variable lists provide the variable names and variable and value labels.

The Resources tab provides links to Related studies , Audiovisual resources, Case studies, Code/Software, Datasets, Guides, Publications /Reports, and Other resources such as promotional material or project websites.

Nesstar provides details for all the variables within the datasets available via the Nesstar system, which includes the full question text, frequency counts and other summary statistics.

Access to the Data Catalogue and Nesstar does not require registration, but you do need to register to conduct online data analysis or download data.


Can I obtain data from other archives?

We can help users locate data from other archives in Europe and worldwide. We can also obtain data from the Inter-university Consortium for Political and Social Research (ICPSR) in the USA for UK users.

You can find data for several key international series in the Data Catalogue. You can also search for data at individual archives via the clickable maps at Data archives.

Note: to request data from ICPSR, make a request via your UK Data Service account, using the ‘Special request’ option available within a registered project.


What is international macrodata?

Macrodata are data aggregated to a country or regional level. The international macro datasets in the UK Data Service contain socio-economic time series data for a range of countries over a substantial time period. Find international macrodata available in the data catalogue.


How do I download data from your ReShare repository?

Access to ReShare datasets depends on the access level that the depositor has set for each file. The access level information can be found by clicking the ‘+’ sign next to each file within the ‘Available files’ section:

  • open data are accessible to any user without registration
  • safeguarded data are accessible only to users registered with the UK Data Service; you will automatically be directed to the login / registration page when downloading such files
  • closed access data requires specific authorisation from the data owner (depositor) to release the data to a user; follow these steps to request access:
    1. email the contact person for the data collection to get written permission, explaining how you want to use the data collection
    2. register with the UK Data Service
    3. submit your access request via the UK Data Service helpdesk, including the data collection number
    4. after we contact you please forward the permission email/letter to us
    5. we will send you the data files using the Essex ZendTo service

How do I request access when receiving the message “You don’t have permission to access….”?

These data are held in our ReShare repository and require permission from the data owner before we can release them. Follow these steps to request access:

  1. email the contact person for the data collection to get written permission, explaining how you want to use the data collection
  2. register with the UK Data Service
  3. submit your access request via the UK Data Service helpdesk, including the data collection number
  4. after we contact you please forward the permission email/letter to us
  5. we will send you the data files using the Essex ZendTo service

When I try to download a data file from ReShare, I am sent to the UK Data Service registration page, although I have already registered, what do I do?

Please close your browser (all tabs), clear your history and cache. Then try to login again. If this fails, you may need to use a different browser.