Social care research

Last updated on 24 Jan 2023

When the HRA became a Non Departmental Public Body on 1 January 2015, we took formal responsibility for research in adult social care. 

The Social Care Research Ethics Committee (REC), previously hosted by the Social Care Institute for Excellence, transferred to the HRA on 1 April 2015. 

The number of RECs able to review social care research in England has been expanded from one to three. 

Ethical review of Social Care Research  

The RECs in England which are flagged to review Social Care research generally expect to review the following types of study: 

  • social care studies funded by the Department of Health and Social Care (England) involving adult social care service users as participants
  • social care research that involves people lacking capacity in England and Wales and requires approval under the Mental Capacity Act 2005 
  • studies where investigators do not have access to other ethics review systems. This could include service user-led research
  • Studies of integrated services (health and social care)
  • intergenerational social care research where both adults and children, or families, are research participants

Applications to a social care flagged REC are expected to fall into one of the IRAS categories below:

  • basic science study involving procedures with human participants
  • study administering questionnaires/interviews for quantitative analysis, or using mixed
  • quantitative/qualitative methodology
  • study involving qualitative methods only 
  • study limited to working with data (specific project only); and 
  • research database. 


Social care research does not require review by the a social care flagged REC if it is reviewed by another committee operating in accordance with the Economic and Social Research Council’s (ESRC’s) framework for research ethics, unless the categories above apply or the research involves NHS patients, people who use services or people who lack capacity as research participants. 

Other student research within the field of social care should ordinarily be reviewed by a university REC (UREC).

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