1. Why do we have a Data Strategy?

The Office for National Statistics (ONS) relies on public and business data in order to produce official statistics. This work is for the benefit of society and the economy, and it helps the UK to make better decisions. Official statistics inform the direction of economic and commercial activities and provide valuable information for analysts, researchers, and public and voluntary bodies. They also enable the public to hold to account all organisations that spend public money, informing democratic debate.

To ensure that we remain at the forefront of using data for the public good, we have produced a Data Strategy to guide and direct our data practices. It is a comprehensive framework to ensure that we continue to give decision makers our best estimates and analysis they need, while maintaining strong safeguards for data. The Data Strategy will allow us to adapt to any changes in the data environment, such as the Digital Economy Act 2017, which allows us to access new and different sources of data. It will also help us to respond to demands for ad hoc insights as well as our usual outputs on things like gross domestic product (GDP), housing markets and baby names.

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2. How do we collect, manage and use data, while providing the best standard of statistical information for the public?

Collecting and using data

We are the UK’s recognised national statistical institute, and the data we use helps us to produce official statistics relating to the economy, population and society at national, regional and local levels. The statistics are for the benefit of society and are published openly online, available free of charge to all.

The ONS collects data from both survey and non-survey sources. Our survey sources include individuals, households, public bodies and businesses, as well as the census in England and Wales every 10 years. Wherever possible, we follow the principle of “collect once, use many times” to produce statistics from existing data sources and avoid duplicate requests being made of those providing data. We enrich this data by using non-survey data such as administrative data that have already been obtained by public- or private-sector organisations.

We aim to minimise the burden on respondents. Our surveys are designed to collect data that are necessary to fulfil our functions, meet users’ needs and serve the public good. To find out what to expect as a respondent to a survey, see our Respondent Charter for Surveys of Households and Individuals and Respondent Charter for Business Surveys.

When collecting data, whether from survey or non-survey sources, we comply with the relevant legislation and use statistical methods that are professional, ethical and transparent. We follow the principles and practices set out in the Code of Practice for Statistics and comply with the Government Statistical Service’s (GSS’s) policy and guidance on reporting any breaches of this Code. We supplement this with independent advice from leading experts. On ethical considerations concerning data, we seek advice from the National Statistician’s Data Ethics Advisory Committee.

Where there is a risk that individuals might be identified within a dataset, either directly or by comparing it with other data, we employ statistical disclosure techniques, in line with the GSS’s guidance, to safeguard the confidentiality of information about individuals and businesses.

Publishing our statistics

We follow a pre-announced timetable for all our regular publications of statistics, analysis and datasets. We also publish data in response to user requests for additional analyses or tables. All statistical releases are published online at 9:30am on a weekday to ensure equal access to all users.

As of 1 July 2017, pre-release access to ONS statistics was removed in all but exceptional circumstances. Further details on the decision to remove pre-release access is available.

Where an error occurs in a published ONS output, we aim to address this promptly and transparently, by placing a notice on the affected statistical release and making any correction as soon as possible.

Revising our statistics

Published statistics can sometimes be revised in order to improve quality by incorporating additional data that were unavailable at the point of initial publication.

Statistics are most often revised for one of two reasons:

  • further data have become available; for certain statistics, such as gross domestic product (GDP), migration statistics, and Retail Sales Index (RSI), initial estimates are released with the expectation that these may be revised and updated

  • when methods or systems are changed

Data security

All data held by the ONS are treated with respect and kept secure and confidential. The statistics we publish are aggregated from individual records, which may contain personal or commercial information. We recognise that we are being trusted with others’ data, and we take our commitment to keep that data secure very seriously.

As a data controller, we have a legal obligation to protect personal data under the data protection legislation. Furthermore, the Statistics and Registration Service Act (SRSA) 2007 makes it a criminal offence to improperly disclose information held by the ONS that identifies a person or business.

Given the potential sensitivity of the data we hold at the ONS, we adopt security measures designed to preserve data confidentiality and ensure data are accessible only by authorised people and only as needed.

Data protection

The ONS complies fully with all data protection legislation, such as the General Data Protection Regulation. Further information, including our privacy statement and data protection policy, can be found on our data protection page.

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