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Frequently Asked Questions

We try to anticipate and answer questions here from people who are interested in our work. If you want more information, or don’t find the answer you need, please contact us and we will do our best to help.

What do you mean by ‘administrative data’?

The term ‘Administrative data’ refers to information collected primarily for administrative purposes (not research). This type of data is collected by government departments and other organisations for registration, transactions and record keeping, usually when delivering a service (such as TV licence fees) and record keeping (such as tracking exam grades and also routine public data collection such as the National Census).

What are the benefits of using administrative data?

Using administrative data for research can help us to understand social and economic trends from across the UK or within neighbourhoods. It can help improve the provision of services such as social housing, and help policy makers to be more effective in how they look after people’s health and wellbeing by understanding where health needs lie and what treatments work best for which types of people.

This type of research can look at data from before and after policy changes are made, to assess their impact. For example, whether the smoking ban damaged the pub trade, or new taxes have given rise to more or less social inequality.

Re-using existing data is more efficient. It speeds up the process of carrying out research on government policy and reduces our reliance on more expensive methods of collecting data such as surveys. For example, it may not be necessary to conduct a house-to-house survey about home occupancy if the information about who is paying which taxes or receiving which benefits is already available in a database.

Linking routinely collected administrative data can:

  • reduce the cost of undertaking surveys
  • reduce the burden on respondents
  • add to information that has already been collected and thereby enrich it

The UK is now taking action to be at the forefront of these developments to increase our understanding of our own national picture through this new Network.

Where do administrative data collections come from?

Data are collected when the government is providing a service, either at national level (such as taxes, births and deaths) or local level (including housing and welfare) – or particular services such as the regional courts or national police database. These collections are held by government departments and agencies, which we refer to as data custodians or data owners.

How do you make sure the information is accurate?

We use existing government administrative data collections that follow strict standards for data quality. Data accuracy is important, and is itself an active area of research.

Page last updated: 08/08/2017