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Ethics Terminology and Tax Information

Please find below common ethics terminology or concepts explained in more detail

  • Assent
    • When a child, under the age of 16, agrees to participate in the research study and have their data collected, stored and used for publication, they provide assent. Assent can only be given with the consent of the child’s parent or guardian.
  • Consent
    • When the participant gives permission to the researcher to contact them for a research study, participate in the study, and have their data collected, stored and used for publication, they provide consent. Consent is only to be used for adults over the age of 16
  • Confidential
    • Data is confidential when personal, identifying information is given and the information is linked to the provider. The details of individuals providing the data are known only to members of the research team and will not be disclosed to anyone else.
  • Anonymous
    • Data is anonymous when it contains no personal, identifying information and cannot be linked in any way to the provider. The details of individuals providing the data are not known to anyone, including members of the research team.
  • Withdrawing of data
    • When drafting the participant information sheet, it is important to explain to participants the time at which they are no longer able to withdraw their data, such as time of publication or time of anonymising the data.
  • Social Media
    • When using social media as a method of recruitment, advertisement or data collection, familiarise yourself with the guidelines and regulations related to the particular social media platform that you will be using. For example, the rules and regulations regarding Twitter data collection can be found here. More specific guidance on the use of Social Media can be found here as well as from the UKRIO.
  • Reporting of Illegal Activity
    • If your research will involve conducting interviews or focus groups, you should consider including a disclaimer that warns participants that any disclosure to the researcher of current/future illegal activity will have to be reported to the proper authorities. Please note that the researcher is not under any obligation to report to the authorities the disclosure of any past illegal activities (except for terrorist offences).  However, researchers might of course feel they have a moral obligation to report past activities if they are of heinous nature (e.g. murder, rape, child abuse, etc).
  • Compensation on Adverts
    • Remember to only state that compensation will be offered for participant’s time
    • You are not allowed to state the £ amount on the advert and are advised not to use terms such as ‘gift vouchers, Amazon vouchers or money’ as these can been viewed as attempt to entice participants.
  • Reporting of Professional Misconduct
    • Researchers who have a professional standing often have an obligation to their professional standards body to report any evidence of misconduct by other member of the profession. If this applies to you, participants should be give appropriate warning of this.

Expenses and Tax (Guidance from the HMRC)

Research volunteers, lay participants and participants in clinical trials


In the course of undertaking research, particularly social science or medical research, volunteers are required to take part in tests, submit to measurements or be interviewed. They are usually paid a small sum to cover out of pocket expenses and as compensation for the time spent. Some of the volunteers may be members of staff of the university, but their participation in the research is not part of their duties of employment and they do it in their own time and are under no obligation to take part.


Closely related to the above is the use of "lay" people or "users" in research. Here the people in question are invited to attend meetings to give their views on various matters to inform the research process and direction. Often they will be former or current patients, representatives of particular groups such as retired people, or representatives from charities. Payment is made to them for their participation in the meetings.


Tax consequences for the university


In the circumstances above, HMRC agrees that the amounts paid to those concerned are unlikely to fall within the definition of “earnings” for PAYE or NI purposes. No employment relationship exists and as such PAYE and NIC would be inappropriate.
Under Section 16, Taxes Management Act 1970, HMRC is entitled to ask for details of payments to non-employees at their discretion; but they would not routinely ask for details for small payments such as these.


Tax consequences for the individuals receiving the payments


There will be no tax or NIC liability arising on the individual if the sums received do no more than reimburse the individual’s reasonable costs of participating in the trial or research, including costs of travel and subsistence.
However should the sums paid exceed those reasonable expenses then the excess may fall to be chargeable to tax as Miscellaneous Income, potentially giving rise to personal tax liabilities of the individuals which should be notified to the Inland Revenue under Self Assessment.

More information can be found here: 

http://www.hmrc.gov.uk/manuals/eimanual/eim71105.htm