The rules for REF have changed since 2014. Staff can now be entered with between 1 and 5 outputs. This means that, in most cases, reductions to account for personal circumstances will not be needed.

There is still a route for making a declaration of personal circumstances, particularly where they mean someone hasn’t got any outputs to submit. However, this is an entirely voluntary process. No information will be taken from HR records or any other sources, including for ECRs, so requests for reductions can only be made if you have chosen to declare your circumstances.


Circumstances that can be considered are:

  • You are an ECR, having started your career as an independent researcher on or after 1 August 2016
  • You have had absence(s) from work of 12 months or more during the REF period (Jan 2014 to July 2020) due to secondment or career break outside higher education 
  • You have had any periods of family leave during the REF period, including statutory maternity or adoption leave of any length, or additional paternity, adoption, or shared parental leave of 4 months or more
  • You have had a significant absence from work, or circumstances equivalent to absence from research, because of:
    • Disability
    • Ill health, physical injury, or mental health
    • Constraints relating to pregnancy, maternity, paternity, adoption or childcare
    • Other caring responsibilities
    • Gender reassignment
    • Other circumstances protected by equality and diversity law, or employment law.

For REF 2021, reductions are applied at Unit level. As such, they can only be requested if the overall pool of possible outputs a Unit can submit has been “substantially impacted” by the circumstances experienced by the people in that Unit.


People who haven’t been able to produce any eligible outputs during the REF period because of personal circumstances can apply to have the minimum requirement of one output waived.

This applies where:

  • You have had absence(s) from work, or a period equivalent to absence from research, of 46 months (3 years, 10 months) during the REF period because of one or more of the circumstances outlined above.
  • You have had two or more periods of family-related leave during the REF period, including statutory maternity or adoption leave, regardless of length, or additional paternity or adoption leave or shared parental leave of 4 months or more.

If you’re going into the REF with no eligible outputs but either these circumstances don’t apply or you choose not to make a declaration, you will still be submitted. Your Unit will be allocated a nominal output in place of your required one, which will be graded as “unclassified” or 0.

Making a Declaration

If you do think one or more of these circumstances may apply to you, you can make a declaration via an online form. The form will be sent out to all eligible staff in September.

The REF Equality and Diversity Group will use the information provided in this form to assess whether your Unit should seek a reduction, or whether a waiver can be requested. You don’t need to provide evidence for any medical or health-related circumstances, although we will need dates for ECRs, secondments or career breaks, or periods of family-related leave

If you have circumstances but feel they haven’t prevented you producing outputs for REF, we would still encourage you to consider making a declaration. The form offers the option to make a declaration without seeking a reduction or waiver. The information provided can be anonymised and used to improve the University’s understanding of the challenges researchers may face and to find ways of recognising that and providing better support.

What next?

More information on REF, personal circumstances and making a declaration is provided in the declaration form. The processes around declarations are also set out in our REF 2021 Code of Practice, available on the REF intranet pages.

The RIS REF Team will also be running special sessions in the autumn term, where staff can ask questions and find out more. Information and booking details will be sent out shortly.