1. Introduction

The Office for National Statistics Secure Research Service (SRS) gives accredited or approved researchers secure access to de-identified, unpublished data in order to work on research projects for the public good. We have been accredited as a Digital Economy Act (DEA) 2017 processor by the UK Statistics Authority for the preparation and provision of data for research purposes.

The SRS provides a safe setting, as part of the Five Safes Framework to protect data confidentiality. The framework is a set of principles adopted by a range of secure labs, including the ONS.

Most datasets are available to access through remote access to the SRS. In some instances, the data can only be accessed from an approved safe setting. Our data catalogue (XLS, 29.6KB) lists all available datasets and any associated access restrictions.

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2. The Five Safes

For safe use of secure data, the Secure Research Service (SRS) uses the Five Safes Framework. This is a set of principles adopted by a range of secure labs. These protocols provide complete assurance for data owners. The Five Safes are:

Safe People

Trained and accredited researchers are trusted to use data appropriately.

Safe Projects

Data are only used for valuable, ethical research that delivers clear public benefits.

Safe Settings

Access to data is only possible using our secure technology systems.

Safe Outputs

All research outputs are checked to ensure they cannot identify data subjects.

Safe Data

Researchers can only use data that have been de-identified.

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3. Working on research projects

There are four ways in which a researcher can be associated with a research project that accesses data in the Secure Research Service (SRS):

A provisional accredited researcher may request access to the secure data in the SRS under the supervision of an accredited researcher. This role suits researchers without the appropriate experience or qualifications for accredited researcher status and is valid for one year.

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4. Becoming an accredited researcher under the Digital Economy Act 2017

Most access to data in the Secure Research Service (SRS) will be by researchers accredited under the DEA. The UK Statistics Authority has published further information on the criteria to be met in a Research Code of Practice and Accreditation Criteria. Application forms and guidance on how to complete them are available for download on the authority’s website.

Full accredited researcher status is valid for five years. Provisional accredited researcher status is valid for one year.

A complete list of accredited researchers will be published on the UK Statistics Authority website to ensure transparency of access to research data under the DEA.

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5. Becoming an approved researcher through the ONS Approved Researcher scheme

In some limited circumstances, researchers may be able to access data in the Secure Research Service by becoming an approved researcher through the Office for National Statistics (ONS) Approved Researcher scheme. More information and advice as to whether this scheme is suitable for your research is available by contacting research.support@ons.gov.uk.

A record of all ONS approved researchers is published on our website to ensure transparency of access to research data under the Statistics and Registration Service Act 2007 (SRSA). ONS approved researchers as listed on this public record are also recognised as accredited under the Digital Economy Act (DEA).

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6. Research project accreditation

To request access data in the Secure Research Service, researchers must also submit a research project accreditation application. All Digital Economy Act 2017 (DEA) research project applications will be considered by the Research Accreditation Panel (RAP), established by the UK Statistics Authority to independently consider applications for research, researcher or processor accreditation.

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

All applications for project and researcher accreditation made under the DEA are subject to the Research Code of Practice and Accreditation Criteria.

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7. Accessing the Secure Research Service (SRS)

Once researchers and their research projects are accredited or approved, projects using the SRS will have a project space created. Data sets requested for projects will be mapped to the project space. Researchers may also send data to the Office for National Statistics (ONS) Statistical Support Team to be added to the project space. For more information on this process please contact us at research.support@ons.gov.uk.

Researchers named on projects will then be provided with their account details and instructions on how to access the SRS. Access to the SRS is through a safe setting. Safe settings may be in safe rooms on ONS sites, in safe rooms on other certified sites, or through an organisation which has an Assured Organisational Connectivity Agreement with ONS and which maintains a current certification.

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8. Safe setting access

Data owners may determine how Secure Research Service (SRS) access is permitted. Where access to the SRS is restricted to safe rooms only, the researcher will need to book a terminal at one of our safe rooms, or a safe setting provided by another approved organisation. Instructions on how to do this will be provided to the researcher if appropriate. Currently, bookings can be made by contacting us at research.support@ons.gov.uk.

We are developing an online system for submitting and tracking applications and requests. This will include safe room bookings. Before a researcher may access one of our safe rooms they will need to complete a security declaration.

Our safe rooms are located within our offices in London (Drummond Gate), Titchfield (Hampshire) and Newport (Gwent, South Wales). We have additional safe rooms within the Scottish Government in Glasgow and at the Northern Ireland Statistics and Research Agency in Belfast. Safe rooms are open Monday to Friday from 9am until 5pm. Any changes to these hours are advertised in advance.

Remote connection to the SRS is available to organisations who can meet the safe setting criteria and achieve certification under the Assured Organisation Connectivity Scheme. Organisations interested in joining the scheme may contact research.support@ons.gov.uk to discuss certification requirements.

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9. Software

Research is conducted in the Secure Research Service (SRS) environment using software that has been tested and installed by the SRS operations and security team. The SRS makes every effort to provide software that is as up to date as possible. Table 1 provides a list of the software that is currently available to use.

Researchers can also request that code they have written is ingested into their project space. For more information please contact research.support@ons.gov.uk.

At this time, we are unable to ingest packages from open source code repositories such as CRAN or GitHub.

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10. Requesting outputs

If you want to remove any work from the Secure Research Service (SRS), you will need to submit the file(s) for clearance to the Statistical Support Team. Statistical disclosure control will be applied to your file(s) to ensure that they are not disclosive and do not identify any individual entity. There are three types of clearance you can request:

  • pre-publication clearance
  • publication clearance
  • code file clearance
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11. Pre-publication clearance

You can request pre-publication clearance when you want to remove files from the SRS for writing up results, or for further discussion with members of the project team. These clearances can only be shared with the project team and those that have commissioned or sponsored the research. Under no circumstance should they be published.

On completion of the project, pre-publication clearances must be destroyed. Failure to comply may result in your accredited researcher status being revoked. Pre-publication requests will take up to 48 hours to process but this does not include time taken for you to respond to any requests for clarification from the Statistical Support Team.

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12. Publication clearance

A publication clearance is the final intended output of your research that you want to publish or share beyond your research team. This can be in the form of a report, publication, presentation or speech but must include everything that will be disseminated, including graphics and words around the data accessed in the SRS. These clearances should be provided with any underlying data used to create tables and graphics.

Publication clearances can be kept indefinitely and distributed freely after they are approved by the Statistical Support Team. The time taken to approve publication clearances will vary depending on the size of the final output, but most are processed within 48 hours.

Both pre-publication and publication clearances must show all underlying, unweighted counts, which should adhere generally to a threshold of 10 (in some instances this may be lower or higher depending on the data). Outputs with counts below the threshold may be considered in exceptional cases, where you can demonstrate the necessity to your research and that the output is still safe.

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13. Code file clearance

You may also request code files for clearance, which can be shared freely once approved. These code files must not contain identifiers or any commands that may attempt to search or identify individual entities. The code should also be annotated or have commentary provided to show the intended outcome of the code to assist the Statistical Support Team with the clearance.

Code file clearance requests will take 24 hours to process. If the clearance team requires additional clarity, it will take a further 24 hours from the point of clarification being provided.

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14. Completed projects

We will contact the lead researcher when a research project is approaching its expected completion date. The researcher will have the option to extend the project if more time is required.

If 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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15. Research Support Helpdesk

The Research Support Helpdesk is available Monday to Friday from 8am until 5pm.

The Research Support Helpdesk can be contacted by telephone on +44 (0)1329 447871 or by email at research.support@ons.gov.uk.

The Statistical Support Team are available through the Research Support Helpdesk.

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16. Other secure data services

Becoming an accredited researcher under the Digital Economy Act (DEA) 2017 will also allow access to other secure data services accredited under the DEA. A complete list can be found on the UK Statistics Authority website.

Office for National Statistics (ONS) approved researchers may only access secure data through the Secure Research Service and the UK Data Service (UKDS) Secure Lab.

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17. Assured Organisational Connectivity to the Secure Research Service

Some organisations have arranged direct connectivity to the Secure Research Service (SRS) so that researchers working for that organisation may connect remotely to the SRS. The Assured Organisational Connectivity (AOC) scheme has been created for organisations to access the SRS from their own premises. These can include government departments or other public bodies, academic institutions, or third sector or commercial organisations operating within the research community. The AOC operates as a mark of assurance to the SRS, information asset owners, and other stakeholders. It is intended to demonstrate that organisations hosting safe settings understand their obligations, can meet the technical requirements for connectivity, have appropriate controls in place, and agree to maintain current and accurate records of connections and activity.

If you would like more information or to check whether your organisation has such connectivity to the SRS please contact research.support@ons.gov.uk. Our policy document for Assured Organisational Connectivity contains more detailed information about the AOC scheme and how organisations may apply for remote connectivity to the SRS.

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18. The Centre for Longitudinal Study Information & User Support (CeLSIUS)

The CeLSIUS team provides support to UK-based users of the Office for National Statistics (ONS) Longitudinal Study (LS) from the academic, voluntary and public sectors. They are based at UCL and the ONS office at Drummond Gate, Pimlico, London. If you are employed in one of these sectors and would like to use the LS, CeLSIUS staff will help you through the application process. In addition to becoming an accredited researcher under the Digital Economy Act 2017 (DEA), you will also need to complete the LS supplementary form which is under ”Related downloads”.

More information is available on the CeLSIUS website.

If you are interested in using the LS but are not employed in one of these sectors, or are based outside the UK, please contact the LS Development Team on: LongitudinalStudy@ons.gov.uk.

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19. The UK Data Service (UKDS)

The UK Data Service (UKDS), based at the University of Essex, provides controlled access to a wide range of social and economic research data, including a number de-identified Office for National Statistics (ONS) datasets.

The Approved Researcher scheme is used to govern access to ONS data managed by the UKDS. Details of the data available and application process are available on the UKDS website.

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20. Administrative Data Research UK (ADR UK)

ADR UK is made up of three devolved partners (ADR Scotland, ADR Wales, and ADR NI), and the Office for National Statistics (ONS), which ensures data provided by UK Government bodies is accessed by researchers in a safe and secure form with minimal risk to data holders or the public.

The partnership is coordinated by a UK-wide strategic hub, which also promotes the benefits of administrative data research to the public and the wider research community, engages with the UK Government to secure access to data, and manages a dedicated research budget.

More information for researchers is available on ADR UK’s website.

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