Microdata Products

Microdata Products

NRS have made three datasets of sampled census data available to researchers who would like to use individual census records (microdata) for research.

These datasets are designed to protect the confidentiality of people and households.  Equivalent datasets are available from the England and Wales and Northern Ireland censuses in 2011.

Data is available at three levels of security – more detailed datasets are held more securely. None of the Microdata Products contain any direct identifiers (e.g. name, address, date of birth).





Teaching Microdata



Effectively anonymised

Safeguarded Microdata


Download under license through UK Data Service (link to UK Data Service website)

Effectively anonymised

Secure Microdata


On application, access through a Secure Research Facility

Personal data

The Teaching Microdata Files contain a limited amount of information about 1% of the Scottish population, chosen at random. This dataset is freely available to download online. We are confident that no individual people or households can be identified in this dataset, because the data is a random 1% sample of the population, and people and households with unusual combinations of characteristics have been removed from the sample to protect their confidentiality.

The Safeguarded Microdata Files contain more detailed information about 5% of the records. The risk of revealing information about individuals or households in this dataset is very low, but not impossible. Because of this there are additional safeguards in place. Researchers are only granted access to this data after agreeing to restrictions on use, data management and storage, and registering the research purpose for each usage of the data. The researcher must be affiliated with an academic institution or public body and the dataset may not be used for commercial purposes. Access to the Safeguarded Microdata Files is administered by the UK Data Service (link to UK Data Service website).

The Secure Microdata Files contain more detailed information about a random sample of 10% of all people, and 10% of all households in the 2011 census. This dataset is given more protection than the other Microdata Products, as the level of detail means there is a higher risk that an individual or household could be identified in the dataset. Researchers can only access this dataset when all of the following apply:

  • The data will only be used for research purposes
  • The data will not be used for automated decision-making
  • The project has been approved by a research ethics panel
  • The project has been approved by an independent panel to consider the public benefit and privacy risks of the research
  • All researchers have been trained to handle personal data safely and appropriately
  • Researchers can only access the data inside a Secure Research Facility.

The results of any data analysis can only be taken out of the secure research environment once a member of NRS or ONS staff has checked that they cannot be used to identify individual people or households.

Secure Research Facilities

Researchers can access the Secure Microdata Files for Scotland’s Census 2011 through the Scottish National Safe Haven, from Safe Settings in Edinburgh, Aberdeen, Glasgow, Dundee, St Andrews, Southampton or London. The Scottish National Safe Haven and the Regional Safe Settings are run by the Administrative Data Research Centre (Scotland) (ADRC-S).

Researchers can access the Secure Microdata Files for Scotland, England and Wales, and Northern Ireland censuses through Office for National Statistics’ Secure Research Service, from London, Titchfield, Newport or Belfast.

What is ADRC-S?

The Administrative Data Research Centre (Scotland) is a partnership between Scottish universities and research organisations. ADRC-S coordinates access to the Secure Microdata Files for researchers, provides training, helps researchers to meet their information governance requirements, and assesses proposed research projects.

Sharing the Secure Microdata Files with the Scottish National Safe Haven

To make the Secure Microdata Files available to researchers in Scotland through the Scottish National Safe Haven, NRS have shared the Secure Microdata Files with the Administrative Data Research Centre (Scotland) (ADRC-S).

Legal gateway

NRS is allowed to share personal census data with ADRC-S to facilitate research because of section 4.2 of the Census Act (1920), which enables the Registrar General for Scotland to authorise the analysis of census data.

Joint Data Control

NRS and ADRC-S are now Joint Data Controllers of the dataset.  This means that we make joint decisions about how the data can be processed, including:

  •  who can process the data
  •  what are acceptable purposes for processing the data
  •  how will the data be processed
  •  where can the data be accessed
  •  what can be released.

NRS and ADRC-S have made an agreement to make decisions about data processing together. This means that a researcher can only access the data if both NRS and ADRC-S both agree that they should have access to the data, and information can only be released from the secure research environment if both NRS and ADRC-S both agree that it should be released.  Either party can end the agreement at any time, and if so the dataset must be destroyed.


NRS and ADRC-S have agreed that the Data Protection Officer for NRS will take responsibility for reporting to the Information Commissioner’s Office any problems or incidents which might put the confidentiality of personal information at risk.

Data Processors

ADRC-S hold a legally binding Controller–Processor Contract with eDRIS (the NHS electronic Data Resource and Information Service), who act as a data processor by providing the Scottish National Safe Haven service and managing the secure transfer, linkage and storage of the data. This Controller–Processor Contract allows eDRIS to contract the physical storage of the data to the Edinburgh Parallel Computing Centre, a facility of the University of Edinburgh.


ADRC-S will retain the Secure Microdata Files indefinitely, unless either ADRC-S or NRS decides to end the agreement. In this case the data will be securely and confidentially destroyed.

Your rights as a data subject

The NRS Data Protection Officer is your point of contact for any concerns or questions about the confidentiality of your personal census data in the Secure Microdata Files from Scotland’s Census 2011.

You also have the right to report your concerns to the Information Commissioner’s Office (ICO). For more information visit the ICO website.

The GDPR grants individual data subjects with certain rights, for example the right to access your own personal data, the right to rectify incorrect data, the right to have your data erased, the right to restrict what can be done with your data and the right to object to the use of your data. However, these rights do not apply to the use of personal data for scientific or historical research purposes or statistical purposes, where responding to these rights would prevent the research or statistical purpose from being achieved.  NRS and ADRC-S have agreed that the Secure Microdata Files may only be used for scientific or historical research purposes, and therefore these rights will not apply.

Personal census data is also exempt from Freedom of Information requests under the Freedom of Information (Scotland) Act 2002, and from Environmental Information requests, under the Environmental Information (Scotland) Regulations 2004.  This applies for 100 years after the data was collected.

We are not able to confirm whether or not your data is included in any particular census dataset, as this could put other peoples’ personal information at risk.

Changes to this privacy notice

We keep our privacy notices under regular review. This privacy notice was last updated on Friday 2 November, 2018

Contact Information

NRS Data Protection Officer
HM General Register House
2 Princes Street

Tel: 0131 535 1314

Email: dataprotection@nrscotland.gov.uk


  • The Census Act 1920 made it a criminal offence to unlawfully disclose confidential census data. The Census (Confidentiality) Act 1991 extended this to people and businesses working as part of the census. Anyone who unlawfully discloses census data can be fined up to £10,000 or sent to prison for up to two years, or both.
  • Data Protection Act 2018 Schedule 2 part 6 and GDPR Article 89(2)