UK Data Explorer

Tools for exploring UK public data

Finding data on the ONS website

This page provides tips on finding your way around the ONS site. The advice is based on my personal experience, and is not an official guide.


Data on the ONS website is organised in releases such as this one. Each release contains:

Some releases also contain a dataset, which typically contains long-term data for a large number of variables.

Finding releases

There are several ways to find the release you need. The options include the following.

  1. The Key Figures page, available from the ONS homepage, is particularly helpful for variables such as GDP that appear in multiple releases, as it provides a link to the most recently-published relevant release.
  2. The Browse by Theme links at the left side of the ONS home page are another good way to find releases. Within your chosen theme, try a link in the Overview or Summaries and Publications section. Many of these links will take you to a statistical bulletin page. A link to the release page will appear just below that page's title.
  3. You can also find releases by searching on the ONS Release Calendar, using the tools on the right to filter out future releases.
  4. Often, the quickest way to find a release is to carry out a search in the box at the top-right of the ONS home page or a web search such as retail sales
  5. The Data section (linked to at the top of the ONS home page) is useful if want to go straight to a particular dataset. The filter buttons at the right of the page can be used to remove reference tables from the list.

Making sure you've found the latest release

If you are viewing the web page of the most recent release, "(Latest)" will appear after the release date under the page title. If you are on the page for an older release, click the "All editions of this release" link at the right of the page. If you want to bookmark a release, it is better to bookmark the page listing all editions, rather than the page for an individual release.

Datasets and reference tables

Reference tables — the Excel files associated with a data release — are ideal if you need data for a fairly recent period of time. Datasets generally provide longer time series. However, it is often difficult to find the data you need in datasets, due to the large number of variables and inconsistent labelling.

Something that can help greatly with understanding a dataset is the reference table (Excel file) whose name contains "Data Tables". This is included with most releases that contains a dataset. The Data Tables file provides recent data for each of the variables in the dataset, and information such as data units is clearly shown. Variables can be cross-referenced with the dataset using the four-character variable code, which ONS refers to as the variable's CDID.

The Key Economic Time Series Data page provides direct links to long-run time series for some of the most frequently-used variables.

Common abbreviations used in variable names

Some of the most common abbreviations used by ONS in variable names are: