Understand the steps you need to take when applying to the UCL Research Ethics Committee (UCL REC) for ethical approval.
You can submit research ethics applications for review through UCL's high and low-risk routes:
- All high risk research must be submitted to the UCL Research Ethics Service for review by the UCL Research Ethics Committee (UCL REC).
- Low risk applications can be submitted to a Local Research Ethics Committee (LREC) or to the UCL Research Ethics Service if your department or faculty does not have an LREC.
Guidance on low and high-risk classification is provided below under Step 1.
This webpage explains how to submit high and low-risk applications to the UCL Research Ethics Service. If your department or faculty has established an LREC to review low risk applications, the application process will differ, so please check local arrangements for submission and review before starting an application.
When submitting research ethics applications to the UCL Research Ethics Service, please provide your application form and supporting documentation as a single pdf document. Your completed application form must include the electronic signatures of the Principal Investigator and Head of Department/ Departmental Ethics Lead.
- 1. Is your project classed as high or low-risk?
Applications involving the following would be deemed to be high-risk:
- Vulnerable groups
- Intrusive interventions (including MRI)
- Overseas clinical trials
- Sensitive topics
- A real risk of harm to either participants or researchers
- Scraping data
- Deception, involving actively misinforming or purposefully not fully informing participants what their participation entails or the true purpose of the research
- Covert methods; actively hiding the observation of, or other data collection from participants, where the participant(s) would otherwise have a reasonable expectation of privacy (applies both in person and online)
If your research meets any of the above criteria it will be classed as high-risk. You will need to complete the high-risk application form and your application will be submitted to a meeting of the UCL REC. The UCL REC meets 10 times a year. The application deadline and meeting dates can be found below.
Applications for research projects which do not involve any of the above high risk elements can be reviewed as 'low-risk'. Please complete the low-risk application form.
Low-risk applications submitted to the UCL Research Ethics Service are reviewed on a rolling basis and there are no fixed submission deadlines.
A number of departments and faculties have established Local Research Ethics Committees which can review and approve low risk applications. Please check the arrangements for review within your area before submitting an ethics application.
- 2. Register with the UCL Data Protection Office (if required)
If you intend to process any personal data during the course of your research (i.e., information that relates to a directly or indirectly identifiable individual), you must apply for registration with the UCL Data Protection Office (DPO) before you submit your ethics application for review. If the DPO advises you to make changes to your data collection and storage arrangements, this should be updated in your ethics application form.
UCL staff and students can register their research with Data Protection using the online registration form on the DPO website. If you are having issues accessing or using this form, please notify email@example.com. After reviewing your application, the DPO will issue a data protection registration number that you should include in your ethics application.
Remember to quote your data protection registration number in the appropriate section of your ethics application form as evidence that the project has been registered with the DPO. The data protection registration number is not the same as the ethics application number (see Step 3).
If the Data Protection registration process is taking longer than the advertised 10 days, please submit your ethics application form, marking the sections relating to data protection registration as ‘to follow’ or ‘registration in progress’. Once available, please supply the Research Ethics Service with your data protection registration number alongside any changes the DPO advised you to make to data collection and storage arrangements.
Remember: data collection must not commence until you have received both ethical approval and data protection registration (where this is required).
- 3. Register within the Ethics database and download an ethics application form
If this is your first application you will need to register your personal details on the Registration Form and a personal account will be established for you. You will need to use your UCL email address and set up a separate password for this database. After you have done this, follow the steps for existing users below.
Log into your account using your email address and ethics password and add a ‘new project’ to your account. A unique Project ID for your proposal will be issued immediately which you should make a note of. The finance department will require this Project ID in order to process grant applications based on this research.
Once you have entered your personal and project details, a zip folder will appear containing a ‘low-risk’ and ‘high’ risk application form together with supporting guidelines for you to download to your computer.
- 4. Carry out a risk assessment
In order to determine whether there are any risks associated with your research, i.e., risks to yourself as the researcher and to those you are researching, it is important to carry out a risk assessment.
It is a legal requirement that all research is assessed for risk. You should refer to your Departmental arrangements for risk assessment procedures in the first place.
Alternatively, please refer to UCL Safety Services guidance on how to carry out a risk assessment. The guidance includes how to record the assessment and who should approve it.
Please e-mail UCL Safety Services at firstname.lastname@example.org if you require further advice.
- 5. Complete the application form and appendices
Complete the application form that is applicable to your research (high or low-risk), ensuring that you have read the guidelines and included all appendices and other documents to support your application.
It is strongly advised that you review your application form for any missing information or inconsistencies, particularly in the recruitment documentation, before submission to ensure that all relevant information has been provided, as incomplete applications will be returned for resubmission. This can also help to avoid additional delays to the review of your application as it ensures that reviewers have sufficient information to be able to review the application and assess the ethical risks and implications of the research.
Please note that for student projects, your supervisor should be identified as the PI, as students cannot be the PI for ethics purposes.
Below are sample copies of our ‘high’ and 'low’ risk application forms and application guidance documents for review purposes only. Please do not complete these versions. To download the relevant application form see step 3 above.
Recruitment documents for participants
All studies that involve the recruitment of participants will use recruitment documents such as information sheets and consent forms. See our ‘annotated’ template example forms:
- 6. Related processes
Formal Sponsorship Review for Clinical Trials Conducted in Developing Countries
If your project is an interventional study in a developing country, i.e., a drug, device, or surgery trial then you will need to register your study within the new UCL Interventional Clinical Trials Portal by completing an Entry Questionnaire (EQ) and emailing a copy to email@example.com (copying in firstname.lastname@example.org).
Upon receipt of your EQ, the ICTM Portal Review Group, who administer the portal, will discuss your EQ and an email response will be sent to you with information on the next steps in the process. General queries/questions regarding the Portal should be directed to email@example.com.
Disclosure and Barring Service (DBS) Checks
For research conducted in England and Wales, a criminal record check will be required by law in England and Wales if the research includes working in 'Regulated' activity with vulnerable groups as defined by the Safeguarding Vulnerable Groups Act 2006 or in a position of trust as defined by the Rehabilitation of Offenders Act Exception Order 1975. Further information and advice are available on the Disclosure and Barring Service (DBS) Checks website.
It is imperative that researchers to whom this applies take action promptly. It can take a month or more to arrange and complete the check, but it is important that researchers have received their clearance before entering a position of trust. Please quote your DBS Disclosure Number in section A2 of the application form.
Current students or those who have applied for a place on a programme at UCL which needs DBS clearance must visit the Student Centre to have their DBS form checked and authorised, and should email firstname.lastname@example.org for information about this in the first instance.
Staff who need the DBS check as part of their work (for a research project, for example) should contact the Employment Contracts Administration of Human Resources at HR.ECA@ucl.ac.uk for a form to complete to decide what level of certification is required. Once they have seen your completed form and made their decision, you will need to go to HR in person to collect the DBS form itself.
As stated in the UCL DBS Checks and Criminal Convictions Policy, ‘UCL will accept portability of DBS checks, which individuals may have from previous employers, as proof of satisfactory clearance' under certain conditions. See Section 3.15 of the Policy for details on these conditions.
For research conducted outside England and Wales, a DBS check would not be applicable if a student is conducting research overseas or in Scotland/Northern Ireland. If a student is conducting research outside of England and Wales, they should investigate obtaining a police check for the relevant country.
On the GOV.UK website there is a full list of how to obtain different police checks. It is not always possible for some countries, but it is best practice for students to make every effort to obtain them. There is more information about Scottish police checks on mygov.scot and Northern Irish police checks on nidirect.gov.
- GOV.UK website Criminal records checks for overseas applicants
- Scotland Criminal Records Checks
- Northern Ireland Criminal Records Checks
The insurance for all UCL studies is provided by a commercial insurer. For the majority of studies, the cover is automatic. However, staff or students undertaking the following types of studies will need to complete an insurance form (visit the UCLH/UCL Joint Research Office website for more information):
- Intervention studies which enrol over 5,000 subjects
- All clinical intervention studies which enrol children aged 5 years and under where the aim is prophylaxis
- All clinical intervention studies where an inclusion criteria is pregnancy
- All intervention or clinical research studies conducted in the USA and Canada.
Travel Insurance arrangements for students conducting research overseas
An application form will need to be completed so that an insurance cover note can be issued. For further information and guidance please visit the Travel on UCL business website.
- 7. Submit the application
Before you submit your application for review you must ensure that the Principle Investigator and Head of Department (or Departmental Ethics Chair/Lead) have both read and agreed the application and signed the form.
It is important that your application is submitted as a single pdf document that contains the electronic signatures of both the Principal Investigator and Head of Department/Departmental Ethics Lead and includes any supporting documentation, all in one file. Please do not provide a scanned physically signed version as this creates a large pdf document.
Ethical clearance at UCL involves a two-stage process
Your completed application should first be submitted for departmental endorsement. Departmental endorsement can be via a departmental Ethics Committe or Ethics Lead or via the Head of Department. Departmental endorsement ensures:
- Awareness by the department of proposals being put forward by departmental staff and students
- Compliance with the Data Protection Act
- Completion of a formal signed Risk Assessment Form
- An opportunity for modification of the ethics application before it reaches the UCL Ethics Committee if alterations are deemed necessary
- Departmental endorsement also offers the department the opportunity to recommend to the UCL Ethics Committee that an application be considered as low-risk.
After you obtain the departmental endorsement and sign off, please submit an authorised electronic copy of your application to email@example.com.
- 8. Responsibilities after approval
The Principal Investigator must report any proposed changes, any adverse events and if required report progress on an annual basis. Visit our responsibilities after approval page for more information.
There is no UCL REC meeting in December or August. Please keep this in mind when planning your research; new high risk applications received after the November and July meeting deadlines will not be reviewed until January/ September.
We aim to return UCL REC review feedback and outcomes within 10 working days of the meeting date.
UCL REC application deadlines and meeting dates for 2023/24:
|Data Protection registration deadline (if required)||High risk application submission deadline||UCL REC Meeting date|
|Wednesday 15 November 2023||Wednesday 29 November 2023||Monday 15 January 2024|
|Wednesday 13 December 2023||Wednesday 10 January 2024||Monday 19 February 2024|
|Wednesday 24 January 2024||Wednesday 07 February 2024||Monday 25 March 2024|
|Wednesday 28 February 2024||Wednesday 13 March 2024||Monday 29 April 2024|
|Wednesday 10 April 2024||Wednesday 24 April 2024||Monday 03 June 2024|
|Wednesday 15 May 2024||Wednesday 29 May 2024||Monday 01 July 2024|
|Wednesday 12 June 2024||Wednesday 26 June 2024||Monday 29 July 2024|
Autumn/winter 2023/24 update
Please note that UCL closes for Christmas on Friday 22 December 2023 and reopens on Tuesday 02 January 2024. Our volunteer reviewers and Research Ethics Service colleagues also take annual leave over Christmas and New Year. If you wish to receive initial review feedback on a low-risk application before the Christmas closure, please submit your application by Friday 1 December 2023. If you submit a new low-risk application after Friday 1 December, please note that you will receive your review comments after UCL reopens in January.
There are no set deadlines for submitting low-risk applications to the UCL Research Ethics Service. Applications are reviewed on a rolling basis and it is strongly advised that you allow plenty of time for the review and to make any revisions. In the interest of fairness to all applicants, low-risk reviews can only be expedited in exceptional circumstances. As a guideline, please allow 20 working days from submission to receive initial review feedback, noting that this may vary during peak submission periods.