1. Before you apply

To request access to data in the Secure Research Service (SRS), researchers must submit a research project application for accreditation in the Research Accreditation Service (RAS). More information about the data that can be applied for is available in our Metadata Catalogue.

On average, it can take around 10 weeks for an application to be approved but this is often quicker if the application provides sufficient detail and guidance is followed. Depending on several factors, for example, the complexity of the project or the time it takes for data owners to provide their approvals, the process may take longer.

As the Digital Economy Act 2017 is the default legal gateway for providing access to data in the SRS, we will conduct a review of the project application to ensure it complies with the legislation and meets the standard required by the Research Accreditation Panel.

Rapid advances in technology have opened the door for developments in the way our users access data. The Integrated Data Service (IDS) will build on the foundations provided by the SRS, and will, in time, replace the current service. Any new SRS proposed projects, or extensions to existing projects, will first be tested for their suitability for commencement in the IDS, where the data and tools are available to meet the requirements of that project. Find out more about the IDS on our web pages.

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2. Information we ask for and why

When submitting a research project application in the Research Accreditation Service (RAS), researchers must adhere to the conditions of project accreditation. We ask researchers to provide information about their research, including project aims, methodology and data requirements to assure the Research Accreditation Panel that the research is legal, ethical and in the public interest.

A downloadable version of the application questions is available in the Research Project Application Form (DOCX 256KB), although all applications to access data in the Secure Research Service (SRS) must be submitted through RAS.

We advise applicants to use the following guidance to avoid delays during the application review.

  1. RAS guidance: each question in the RAS application provides guidance on the information we need to know.

  2. Project application example guidance (DOCX, 80.2KB): this provides additional information about how to complete each question in RAS.

  3. Exemplar of a research project application (PDF, 343KB): this demonstrates the level of detail required to assure the Research Accreditation Panel that the project meets the accreditation criteria.

Guidance is also provided to complete the Ethics Self-Assessment Tool, which can be used to demonstrate consideration of ethical risks if ethical approval has not already been granted from an institutional ethics board.

More information on what is accepted can be found in the Ethical approval section.

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3. Checking data access conditions before submission

All researchers must be accredited before access to data is granted. This can be applied for in the Research Accreditation Service (RAS) and in parallel with the project application.

It is essential to check the access permissions and conditions assigned to all requested project datasets when applying for a project. To do this, applicants must refer to the Access and Governance information for each required dataset in our Metadata Catalogue.

Data owners may set special conditions of access to data shared via the SRS. If standard access conditions do not apply, it is likely that we need to contact data owners to review a project application. This can add time to the application review process and should be considered when applying for a project in the Secure Research Service (SRS).

Access to the SRS must be through an approved safe setting. Datasets have different access permissions, and the overall project access level (that is, where a project can be accessed) is dependent on the minimum access stipulation within the selected datasets. This means that not all projects can be accessed from an office or home location, even if an Assured Organisational Connectivity (AOC) agreement is in place, and may require safe room only access if even one dataset only permits this.

Researchers should have an AOC agreement in place if connection to the SRS is required from office or remote (home) locations and all datasets permit this. This can be applied for by emailing srs.connectivity@ons.gov.uk and in parallel with the project application.

For more information about access levels, please visit our webpage on how to access our service and data securely.

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4. Ethical approval

There must be evidence that research meets appropriate ethical standards in line with the Research Code of Practice and Accreditation Criteria.

Researchers with institutional ethics approval need to make sure that their application in the Research Accreditation Service (RAS) demonstrates an in-depth ethical review of their research proposal.

This can be done by including evidence of how the proposal has been reviewed, by whom and to what standards or framework.

Where a proposal has not been reviewed but has been given ethical approval, this will not be accepted as evidence of active ethical review. An example of this is because the project is out of scope of the institutional policy.

Ethical review should cover all aspects of ethics. Researchers can make reference to the UK Statistics Authority’s six ethical principles, or similar, in their institutional ethics application. These six principles cover:

  1. Public good

  2. Confidentiality and data security

  3. Methods and quality

  4. Legal compliance

  5. Public views and engagement

  6. Transparency

In the application, it should cover how any ethical risks associated with these principles have been mitigated. Evidence that the ethical review has covered an overview of the project and its aims should also be included.

If the institutional ethical approval has not involved an in-depth review of the research proposal, then submitting the Authority’s ethics self-assessment can show that the research meets ethical standards. More detail on the Authority’s ethical principles and their self-assessment can be found on the Guidelines on using the ethics self-assessment process – UK Statistics Authority.

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5. Research project review and accreditation

We will conduct a review of the project application to ensure it complies with the standard required by the Research Accreditation Panel. Our review consists of several stages and we will send the Project Lead comments and queries until we are satisfied it meets the project accreditation criteria. For the full conditions, please read Part 2, Section C of the Research Code of Practice and Accreditation Criteria.

The different stages of the approval process from submission to accreditation of the project application are as follows.

  1. Checks to ensure the application has been completed to a suitable standard.

  2. Checks to ensure the research is feasible and meets the required accreditation standards, including an ethics assessment by the Centre for Applied Data Ethics.

  3. Approval from the data owners that the project proposes appropriate use of their data; this may involve approval from additional governance boards.

  4. Review and accreditation from the UK Statistics Authority on behalf of the Research Accreditation Panel.

  5. Review and accreditation from the Research Accreditation Panel or National Statistician’s Data Ethics Committee may be required if the research carries additional risk.

Applicants may receive queries from multiple reviewers of their application at any stage of the project accreditation process.

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6. Research project creation for data access

Once researchers and their research projects are accredited or approved, researchers using the Secure Research Service (SRS) will have their user accounts and project space created. Datasets requested for projects will be mapped to the project space and access to data will be provided.

Researchers may also send approved data to the Statistical Support Team to be added to the project space. This should be included in the External Datasets section of the initial project application. Failure to include this at the earliest stage may result in delays in processing the additional ingest request, as inclusion of additional data must be considered for the whole project.

For more information on the ingest process please read the Requesting Ingests information.

A complete record of accredited researchers and their projects will be published on the UK Statistics Authority website to ensure transparency of access to data for research.

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7. Microdata Release Panel approved projects

The Digital Economy Act 2017 is now the default legal gateway for providing access to data in the Secure Research Service (SRS), and the Research Accreditation Panel is the default governing body for SRS projects. The Microdata Release Panel that preceded the Research Accreditation Panel was disbanded in 2019.

If a project was previously approved by the Microdata Release Panel, the Project Lead will be contacted by SRS Customer Support to migrate to the Research Accreditation Panel framework under the Digital Economy Act 2017.

If researchers wish to continue with the research in the SRS, they will be required to provide additional information about the project to ensure that all projects in the SRS are accredited and governed to the same standard.

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8. Completed projects

Researchers should ensure that their project areas are subject to regular housekeeping and all files that allow for replication of research (such as code files) are cleared and exported from the environment at the end of the project.

If you have an active project you are no longer working on, please discuss with your project lead and request that they contact srs.customer.support@ons.gov.uk with the project number to request to close the project. Please also advise the Customer Support team if your project lead has changed so we have the most recent contact information, should we need to contact you about your project.

We will contact the lead researcher when a research project is approaching its expected completion date. The researcher may have the option to extend the project if more time is required, although this is not guaranteed.

Researchers should indicate enough time to complete their research when applying for a project. This must be within five years for Digital Economy Act accredited projects. We may contact you regarding your completion date if your project is deemed suitable for transition to the Integrated Data Service.

When the research project is complete, we ask researchers to provide us with any final publications associated with the work. In some cases, we may seek to produce a case study where we see examples of innovative methodology, strong public benefit, or outstanding collaboration.

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9. Contact details

You can contact the Secure Research Service Customer Support team for more information. They will forward any relevant requests to the Project Applications team.

You can contact them by telephone on +44 1329 447871 or by email at srs.customer.support@ons.gov.uk.

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