Access Understanding Society data

Understanding Society data are available through the UK Data Service. Researchers who would like to use Understanding Society need to register with the UK Data Service before being allowed to apply for or download datasets. 

If you use Understanding Society you must cite the data correctly. You can find information on citation here

Access Levels

There are three levels of access, depending on how disclosive the dataset that you want to use is.

End User Licence

Most researchers and analysts will only need End User Licence (EUL) access. You can directly download this version of the dataset from the UK Data Service website after you have accepted the terms and conditons of the End User Licence. You can find the EUL versions of Understanding Society here:

The EUL version excludes some variables that are considered to have a higher disclosure risk, such as day and month of birth variable, detailed country of birth variable, detailed occupation codes and geographical locators below the level of government office region.

Special Licence

Special Licence data access during the covid-19 pandemic

The UK Data Service has put in place new measures to allow researchers to access Special Licence data from their home computer. These measures mitigate against any additional risks posed by people working outside their institutional environment and provide assurance to data owners. This applies only to the current temporary lockdown period.Users of Special Licence data must submit a new additional online agreement to the UK Data Service, where they will need to agree to twelve conditions. They will then be permitted to use their institutionally approved VPN to access their approved standalone organisational/institutional workstation (PC, laptop, other portable device) at the location specified in their Special Licence application. For more information go to the UK Data Service website.

If you want to use the variables excluded in the EUL version then you will need to access a Special Licence (SL) version of the dataset. You can apply for access to Special Licence data through the UK Data Service. You will need to submit a form stating your research objectives and clearly explain why Special Licence data are needed for your project. Only after your application has been approved will you be granted access to the dataset. You can read the terms and conditions of Special Licence data here

You can find the SL versions of Understanding Society here: 

If you want to access geographical locators lower than government office regions go to the SL version of Understanding Society and use the drop down list to see all SL version files. For example, you can find the Census 2001 Lower Super Output Area (LSOA) locator variables for Understanding Society and BHPS households here. There are two levels of geographical locator variables. Access to more detailed geographies, such as LSOA, is limited to researchers in certain countries. More information on access conditions is included in the catalogue record for the dataset. 

Secure Data Access

This level of access is needed if you want to access variables with very high levels of disclosure risk, such as exact date of birth or the national grid reference of a respondent's address. This type of data can only be accessed by approved researchers in secure settings. To use Secure Access Data (SDA) data researchers must be based at a UK academic institution, an ESRC-funded research centre or apply through the ONS Secure Research Service (SRS) and be an ESRC Accredited Researcher. You can find information on the UK Data Service Secure Lab and ONS SRS here

You can find SDA versions of Understanding Society here: 

Commercial use

Commercial organisations can apply for access to Understanding Society data and are subject to the standard access procedures. For some data the terms of consent may prohibit commercial access. Commercial organisations are required to demonstrate the public benefits that are likely from the research use.

What format is the data in?

Understanding Society data consists of multiple files in SPSS, Stata and tab delimited formats. 

Need help with using Understanding Society? 

The Understanding Society dataset is large and complicated - if you are new to using Understanding Society you may benefit from a training course to help you make the best use of the dataset. For specific queries on using Understanding Society, please contact our User Support Forum.

You can discuss your qureries directly with our User Support team during the online helpdesk hour every Wednesday from 2-3pm. Send an email to for instructions on how to join.