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MRS’ guidance on social distancing, facial coverings and vaccinations

By News

Here is an update on MRS’ guidance on social distancing, facial coverings and vaccinations following the various government announcements about arrangements after 19 July 2021.

The MRS Standards Team are currently reviewing all the guidance to update it with the new requirements. However, to help you prepare for the changes, the Standards team have prepared a summary of the current MRS position:

Social distancing and facial coverings

Whilst facial coverings are no longer required by law in England, the UK Government ‘expects and recommends’ that people continue to wear face coverings in enclosed and crowded spaces. The Scottish, Welsh and Irish Governments continue to require the use of facial coverings as do some public transport networks such as Transport for London.

Pre-data collection

  • Research practitioners must undertake risk assessments prior to the commencement of any data collection, and this must include considerations regarding social distancing and facial coverings.


  • Participants’ attitudes to facial coverings and social distancing cannot be known until they have been engaged by research practitioners and agreed to take part in data collection. As such, research practitioners must continue to use facial coverings and maintain social distancing when recruiting participants.

During Data Collection

  • Research practitioners must continue to adhere to any relevant government guidance in the country where they are undertaking any data collection. For example, for England this would be the UK Government working safely during coronavirus guidance. This guidance was updated yesterday and focuses on the need to undertake risk assessments, provide clear guidance on how to work safely, improve ventilation in indoor spaces and leaves employers to determine appropriate measures to minimise Covid-19 in the workplace. Scotland continues to operate its Protection Level system, Wales its Alert system and Northern Ireland has guidance.
  • Research practitioners must continue to adhere to any client corporate guidance, when it requires a higher level of safety than the government guidance; this includes data collection undertaken in halls, hospitals, hotels, public transport and other venues. For example, if a retailer decides to continue to require facial coverings and social distancing in its outlets any research practitioners undertaking data collection must follow the client’s corporate policy.
  • Research practitioners must continue to use facial coverings and adhere to social distancing in environments which include participants who may be clinically extremely vulnerable e.g., health research in hospitals, care homes, etc.
  • For doorstep and in-street environments without any UK Government, corporate or health-based restrictions, etc. research practitioners should wear facial coverings and adhere to social distancing when undertaking data collection. Only in exceptional circumstances should facial coverings not be used.

Data Collection in Viewing Facilities

  • For data collection undertaken in viewing facilities research practitioners must continue to use facial coverings and social distancing in areas where members of the public may reside e.g., receptions, waiting rooms, common areas, etc.
  • Facilities must continue to provide clear guidance on how to reduce the risk of spreading Covid-19 to people when they arrive at their facilities. For example, with on-site signage and visual aids.
  • Facilities must take steps to improve ventilation in viewing facilities e.g., fully or partially opening windows, using mechanical ventilation systems, air vents and opening doors whilst continuing to protect participant confidentiality during data collection.
  • If research practitioners wish to undertake data collection in viewing facilities without social distancing and facial coverings, they must ensure that participants are recruited on this basis, i.e., informed that the exercise will be without social distancing and facial coverings, and that this is allowable in the country where the data collection is being undertaken. Similarly, if data collection is to be with facial coverings and social distancing participants must be recruited on this basis.
  • Once data collection is due to start, research practitioners must undertake agile risk assessments before facial coverings are removed and social distancing is no longer in place. Only if all participants and research practitioners are willing and agree can data collection in viewing facilities be undertaken without social distancing and facial coverings.

Covid-19 Vaccinations

The Covid-19 vaccination and employment issue is complex. In the UK having a Covid-19 vaccination is not mandatory. An employer may make it a condition of employment to require someone who is not vaccinated to declare they have not been Covid-19 vaccinated and to provide a reason. However, to exclude or treat an individual differently on the criteria of whether or not they have had a Covid-19 vaccine could be defined as discriminating against such individuals.

There are a number of reasons why individuals may not be vaccinated including access to the vaccines, philosophical beliefs, religious beliefs, health and medical conditions including pregnancy and allergies to vaccine ingredients.

In the UK the Equality Act lists a number of protected characteristics and this includes religious or ethical beliefs, disabilities (which can include allergic issues) and also those who are pregnant. Depending on the reason for not taking the vaccine could determine whether such legislation could apply.

There are also a number of issues to consider with regards to mandatory vaccination. Employers cannot forcibly vaccinate employees or potential employees unless they work in a sector (such as care homes) where a legal requirement has been introduced. Conversely, employers do have responsibilities to protect workers and employees.

A number of organisations have produced employer guidance on vaccinations and we recommend these are reviewed if and when organisations are determining their corporate approach to vaccines:

In-home data collection

The Standards team are also working on guidance for the resumption of in-home face-to-face data collection. The current plan is for in-home to resume from September assuming that the UK Government continues with its revised timetable for easing restrictions. This approach ensures that we have extra time to see how the post-easing of restrictions performs before committing to a full roll-out of in-home face-to-face data collection.

If you have any queries about the MRS Code or any of the MRS’ Covid-19 guidance please contact the MRS Standards Team via the MRS Codeline service.

Covid-19 – Latest MRS Guidance

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The MRS has issued new guidance for areas affected by Covid-19 variant. The following is MRS’ interpretation of the new UK Government advice for parts of the UK. This UK Government advice applies to the areas where the Covid-19 variant is spreading fastest, which are currently:

The MRS interpretation of this advice applies to these and any new areas which are added to this list. The UK Government has stated that, where possible, in the areas affected individuals should try to:

  • Meet outside rather than inside where possible.
  • Keep 2 metres apart from people that they don’t live with (unless they have formed a support bubble with them), this includes friends and family individuals don’t live with.
  • Minimise travel in and out of affected areas.

The current MRS guidance (issued on 12 April 2021) contains the following requirements:

  • Research practitioners must undertake a risk assessment of any proposed data collection exercise before beginning any face-to-face data collection.
  • Research practitioners must consider the amount of travel required to undertake face-to-face data collection and introduce approaches which minimise the amount of travel required e.g., localise data collection to specific areas.
  • Research practitioners should limit travel for face-to-face data collection purposes unless absolutely necessary for the purposes of the project.
  • Research practitioners when travelling for face-to-face data collection projects, must plan ahead or avoid busy public transport times and routes.
  • Research practitioners must follow any lockdown travel restrictions which apply to each of the UK’s four nations.
  • Research practitioners must check whether additional restrictions apply in their area.

In light of the new UK Government advice, when applying the MRS requirements practitioners must consider the following:

  • The results of any project risk assessments (including those projects already underway) and determine whether the risk mitigations associated with any face-to-face data collection activities are sufficient in light of the new conditions in the affected areas.
  • Limiting the amount of travel which research practitioners need to undertake for any planned face-to-face data collection activities in affected areas.
  • Only using research practitioners from affected areas to undertake face-to-face data collection activities in the affected areas.

The MRS Standards Team are continuing to review and update the MRS guidance as and when required. The existing MRS Covid-19 guidance documents continue to apply, supplementing the UK Government guidance:

If you have any queries about the MRS Code or any of the MRS’ Covid-19 guidance please contact the MRS Standards Team via the MRS Codeline service.

MRBA: How the MRBA can help during this COVID-19 pandemic

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As Coronavirus is now beginning to hit the market research industry in the UK, we would like to remind employers that the Market Research Benevolent Association is here to help. We are aware that our industry contains a relatively high proportion of casual workers, both face to face and telephone interviewers, who will suffer financially if they cannot work. For people who get into severe financial hardship the MRBA may be able to offer some assistance. We cannot just top up lost earnings, but where there is, for example, a threat of eviction due to the current situation then we may be able to help. We will be aiming to help those most in need. Our usual criterion of at least two years working in market research will continue to apply. For the time being this will be subject to confirmation from employers because we will not always be able to conduct home visits.

If someone finds themselves in this situation then they should email [email protected] to request an application form. They should not call the Helpline, but see the website for the information that we shall be seeking from them and include as much of this as possible in their initial email.