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Policy Research Units (PRUs) Stage 1 Guidance for Applicants


Published: 09 August 2022

Version: 2.0 - September 2022

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Please ensure you refer to the individual specification when completing your application.

Section 1: Application Summary Information

Host Organisation

Provide details of the organisation that will be the contractor if the programme is funded. If your organisation is not listed, please email

The NIHR Policy Research Programme accepts applications from Higher Education Institutions, NHS organisations, commercial and other third sector organisations. Please be advised that individual calls may however indicate specific requirements - please check the research specification for the call to ensure no exclusions apply.

Research Title

This should be the Policy Research Unit (PRU) title, which should reflect the proposed research focus. Any abbreviations should be spelled out in full.

Research Type

Select the appropriate research type. If your proposed programme includes any element of primary research, please select ‘Primary Research’. If you are carrying out new analysis of existing data, select ‘Secondary Research’. If you are not sure which category to select, choose the closest match to your proposal as this can be adjusted later.

Proposed Start Date

Please enter 01 January 2024.

Research Duration (months)

Please refer to the individual PRU specification.

End Date

This field will automatically populate once you have entered the start date and research duration information.

Estimated Research Costs

Enter the total amount of costs requested (not including NHS Support & Treatment costs or non-NHS intervention costs) for the operation of the PRU.
All figures should include full economic costing and input VAT, as appropriate, but should exclude any output VAT.

PLEASE NOTE: Applicants should no longer include open access costs as part of their stage 1 estimated application Research Costs.

From the 1st of June 2022 all eligible awards contracts issued across NIHR Programmes, NIHR Personal Awards and NIHR Global Health Research Portfolio will have an Open Access Envelope allocated to them on top of the award value, which is ring-fenced for open access costs of peer reviewed research articles that arise directly from the research funded by the award in question.

Further information can be found by reading the Open Access Funding Guidance.

Further information on eligible costs for PRU awards can be found in APPENDIX A.

Estimated NHS Support & Treatment costs or external (not NHS) intervention costs

If applicable, please enter the total amount of NHS support and treatment costs anticipated for this proposal.

Conflict checks

Please declare any conflicts or potential conflicts of interest that you or your co-applicants may have in undertaking this research, including any relevant, non-personal & commercial interest that could be perceived as a conflict of interest.

Agreement to terms and conditions

As lead applicant, please tick the box to confirm that the information entered into the application form is correct and that you take responsibility for overall management and delivery of the research.

Section 2: Lead Applicant Details

Complete your name, contact details and other requested information.

Section 3: The Research Team

Specify your (lead applicant) role in this research

Describe the role that you will be undertaking in the PRU as the PRU director.

%FTE Commitment

This refers to the percentage of your time that you will commit to this PRU. If you are funded as part of other NIHR projects that will be running concurrently, your time must not exceed 100% overall.

Joint Lead Applicant and %FTE commitment

Where appropriate and justified it is acceptable for the application to be led by joint Lead Applicants. Where this applies, please complete your name, contact details and other requested information.

Justification for Joint Lead Applicant and role in this research

Justification should be given to demonstrate why more than one person would be required to lead this PRU and how this brings added value to the application.Please also provide a brief overview of their role in the proposed work.

NOTE: For application/contracting purposes, the joint lead applicant will be counted as a co-applicant.

Co-Applicant role and %FTE commitment

A maximum of 15 co-applicants is permitted (which includes the joint lead applicant if listed).

Add details of all co-applicants and their specific role in the programme. Do not include collaborators, who should be mentioned (if appropriate) in the Research Plan section of the form.

We encourage the inclusion of public co-applicants, where appropriate. Please include a clear description of their role and the reasons why a public co-applicant is joining the team. For further information please access the 'Public Co-Applicants in Research' guidance.

Co-applicants are those individuals with responsibility for the day to day management and delivery of the PRU activities and can include patients, carers and service users. Co-applicants, including public co-applicants, are considered part of the project team and are expected to share responsibility for its successful delivery. In contrast, collaborators normally provide specific expertise on particular aspects of the PRU activities but do not share in the responsibility for the delivery of the PRU.


There should be a named person with appropriate skills and experience who is responsible for leading the Patient and Public Involvement and Engagement activities within the PRU. This role should be an adequately costed and resourced research team member who is able to manage the PPI plans and related activities. More information and examples of the activities a PPI lead might undertake can be found in our guidance on the NIHR website.

Section 4: Plain English summary of research (Word Limit: 300 words)

A plain English summary is a clear explanation of your PRU proposal.

Many reviewers use this summary to inform their review of your funding application. They include policy makers, practitioners, analysts and researchers who do not have specialist knowledge of your field as well as members of the public. If your application for funding is successful, the summary will be used on the NIHR website and other websites.

A good quality plain English summary providing an easy to read overview of your whole proposal will help:

  1. those carrying out the review (reviewers and board and committee members) to have a better understanding of your proposal
  2. inform others about your proposal such as members of the public, health and social care professionals, policy makers and the media
  3. the research funders to publicise the proposal that they fund.

If it is felt that your plain English summary is not clear and of a good quality then you may be required to amend it prior to final funding approval.

It is helpful to involve patients / carers / service users / practitioners and members of the public in developing a plain English summary.


When writing your summary consider including the following information where appropriate:

  1. overall vision of the PRU, including aims and objectives
  2. approach to developing a programme of work
  3. ways of working e.g. including how you would work with the Department of Health and Social Care (DHSC) Liaison Officer for the Unit based within the Science, Research and Evidence Directorate, and relevant analysts and policy makers
  4. patient and public involvement
  5. dissemination approaches.

The plain English summary is not the same as a scientific abstract - please do not cut and paste this or other sections of your application form to create the plain English summary.

Further guidance on writing in plain English is available online at NIHR Plain English summaries.

For further support and advice on writing a plain English summary, please contact your local Research Design Service (where applicable).

Section 5: Research plan (Word Limit: 3000 words)

Please use this section to clearly explain your proposed PRU. Schematics, tables, illustrations, graphs, and other types of graphics can be embedded to clarify the Unit’s plan but they should not clutter the central narrative. While images do not count towards the overall word count, inclusion to overcome word limits is not permitted. Images may only be included within this section. They will be removed from other sections and not seen by reviewers.

As this is the main part of your application which will be considered by the reviewing panel, you should ensure that the information is accurate, succinct and clearly laid out.

Please describe the overall approach you will take to meet DHSC’s requirements for this call, referring to the overarching PRU invitation to tender and the individual Unit specification for which you are applying. Please set out your vision for the Unit and how you will work with Liaison Officers, policymakers and analysts from DHSC and Arms Length Bodies, ensuring you address the call selection criteria and requirements in the order set out below:

     A. Expertise

Please describe:

  • how the PRU Director is suitably qualified and experienced to lead a PRU and what leadership, management and advisory arrangements will be in place;
  • the PRU team's track record in the appropriate research area/s;
  • the applicants’ track record in leading and adapting in complex and changing environments;
  • the PRU team’s breadth of expertise in a range of disciplines appropriate to the areas of research set out in the Unit specification and cross-cutting themes.
    Applicants should demonstrate their ability to draw on others for specific work outside the core expertise or capacity of the group, as necessary.

     B. Capacity, resourcing and programme management

Please describe:

  • how the team will offer the capacity to deliver an agreed programme of work to high quality and provide a rapid response facility as outlined in the specification;
  • the roles of the team members, explaining their added value to the Unit;
  • the proposed Unit management and support arrangements (the appointment of a dedicated PRU Administrator is strongly recommended);
  • the key anticipated risks to the successful delivery of PRU research, outlining appropriate mitigations.

     C. Understanding of context and needs

Please provide evidence of:

  • the team’s ability and understanding of how to engage with policy makers and address their needs via research (including ability to adapt to changing priorities);
  • the team’s awareness of research that is relevant to health, public health and social care policy and service delivery in England and pertinent to the Unit in question.

     D. Collaboration and capability building

Please describe:

  • how the team will support collaborative and offer flexible working arrangements with the Department and its Arms Length Bodies to agree programmes of research and responsive projects, adjusting plans to support policy timeframes as required;
  • suggested strategies for working collaboratively, both within and across units, on cross cutting themes for example, and for linking up and developing synergies with other NIHR funded initiatives;
  • the approaches that will be used to increase capacity and capability for research in key areas.

     E. Equality, diversity and inclusion

Applicants should demonstrate

  • their understanding of, and commitment to, equality, diversity and inclusion principles,with regard to both the configuration of the PRU team and the research carried out;
  • their understanding of health inequalities within the relevant PRU topic area, and identify opportunities for addressing these.

     F. Patient and public involvement and engagement

The application should include:

  • a strategic approach to PPIE that aligns with, and supports the delivery of, the objectives of the Unit;
  • a description of how PPIE features in the organisational structure and governance of the Unit itself. Leadership and reporting arrangements should be adequate and likely to ensure meaningful PPIE contribution to the delivery of the Unit’s strategic objectives.

     G. Communication

Please describe planned approaches to dissemination and stakeholder engagement for the PRU.

     H. Value for money

Please justify the funding requested and explain how these costs offer best value for money.

Section 6: Uploads

There is a maximum of 5 uploaded additional documents allowed. Please ensure uploaded documents are in PDF format:

  • A single A4 page listing up to 10 key publications and up to 5 research awards highlighting relevant work led by members of the proposed PRU team (reflecting the collective PRU team experience)
  • Diagram representing the overarching leadership, management and advisory structures (on a single A4 page)
  • Up to two (2) example outline descriptions for potential policy research projects. These outline project descriptions should be a maximum of 1 side of A4 and should illustrate how the applicants would approach research requests within the Unit. We have been notified that the guidance lists 5 uploads whereas only 4 upload slots are available.

If submitting two project outline descriptions, please upload the first as normal and email the second project outline description to in advance of the 11 October 2022 1pm deadline.

The attachment should be:
- no larger than 1 side of A4
- PDF or word document format
- Titled to include the PI Surname and reference number
- Submitted before 11 October 2022 1pm

Please use the template provided for these outline descriptions.

  • One single-side A4 page, listing references used throughout your proposal.

Section 7: Admin contact details

Please provide the details of an administrative lead as a secondary point of contact for any queries relating to the application, should it be supported.

NOTE: This person does not need to be a co-applicant

Section 8: Research and Development office contact details

Please provide the contact details and job title of a person in the R&D office so that we are able to notify them of the outcome of this application including any associated feedback.

NOTE: Please note this person does not need to be included as a co-applicant.

Section 9: Validation Summary

Please follow the next steps in order to complete your application submission process;

  • Validate all mandatory/required fields listed below (that are required to be completed/amended before submitting)
  • Click 'Save and Close'
  • Click the 'Submit' option (this must be completed by 1pm on 11 October 2022)

You will receive an automated email containing the acknowledgment that we have received your application.

If there are no validation requirements above you may be ready to submit the application. To do so 'Save and Close' the application and then click ‘Submit'.

Please note that your submission will not be considered complete until all applicants have confirmed the application and the ‘Submit’ button becomes available and is then used.


Further information on eligible costs for PRU awards.

PLEASE NOTE we are not asking for a detailed finance breakdown or a SoECAT form as part of the Stage 1 application process, this information is to assist you in planning costs associated with running a PRU award.

Programme specific information

Please note for the NIHR Policy research Programme (PRP), cost items for all organisation types should be calculated at 100 percent of the cost value. PRP will provide up to 100% for HEIs Direct and Indirect cost and up to 100% for NHS direct costs. PRP does not provide payment for NHS indirect research costs.

General information

The information entered in the application should provide an estimate of the total funds requested to deliver the proposed PRU and should be based on current prices. These costs will be used to assess value for money. Please ensure that you include all costs including those required to secure good research management.

  • Costs must be provided at current prices. Any adjustments for inflation will be reviewed on an annual basis at rates set by the Department of Health and Social Care. Whilst allowances for incremental increases should be included on the total amounts requested, nationally or locally agreed pay increases should be excluded.
  • Years should be calculated starting from the anticipated start date of the proposed research. For example, if your research is expected to start on 01 January 2024 then its second year starts 01 January 2025.
  • Further itemisation of costs and methods of calculation may be requested to support the application at a later date.
  • Payments will be made to the contracted organisation only and the contracted organisation will be responsible for passing on any money due to their partner organisation(s).
  • Appropriate sub-contracts must be put in place for any element of the research which is to be paid to another organisation.
  • NHS support costs, including costs for Social Care research are funded via Clinical Research Networks. Researchers should contact their local NHS R&D department initially and, if they are unable to help directly or if there is no local NHS R&D department, contact the Local Clinical Research Network (LCRN) senior manager for advice on NHS support costs. Further details about LCRN contacts are available on the NIHR LCRN website.
  • All applications are expected to have appropriate NHS, HEI, commercial and other partner organisation input into the cost estimates stated in the form. 
  • Non commercial led Awards (e.g. NHS, HEI etc.) will be paid via BACS transfer payment schedules. The NIHR will release funds net of VAT as Research and Development is considered VAT exempt. There are some cost items within an application which may incur VAT, such as equipment or subcontractors. If the applying organisation is unable to claim back the VAT on these items (e.g., maybe they are not VAT registered) then applicants can charge the gross value to the application.
  • Commercial led awards will be paid via invoicing. It is up to the company to decide if it is appropriate to apply VAT on the invoice. If the company decides to apply VAT, then DHSC will pay the invoice and claim back the VAT. We recommend that applicants seek advice from VAT experts within their organisation before applying.

Please note that whilst the applicable percentages will be used to calculate the maximum grant payable, the programme reserves the right to award a grant for less than this maximum where it is considered appropriate.

Information on different types of organisations

Higher Education Institutions (HEIs)

Higher Education Institutions (HEIs) should determine the Full Economic Cost (FEC) of their research using the Transparent Approach to Costing (TRAC) methodology. For HEIs, up to 100% of FEC will be paid, provided that TRAC methodology has been used.

NHS bodies and other providers of NHS services in England

For applications where the contractor is an NHS body or provider of NHS services in England, up to 100% of direct costs will be paid.

Commercial/other partner organisations

If you are a commercial organisation/consultancy, please fill in direct costs and commercial indirect costs. Indirect costs should be charged in proportion to the amount of research staff effort requested on the funding application form. Up to 100% of costs will be paid.

If you are another partner organisation (e.g. charity or NGO), please fill in direct costs and other partner organisations indirect costs. Indirect costs should be charged in proportion to the amount of research staff effort requested on the funding application form. Up to 100% of costs will be paid.

Eligible costs

1. Direct costs

These are costs that are specific to the research, which will be charged as the amount actually spent and can be supported by an audit record. For example:

  • Salary costs (apply to years) of each applicant contributing to the research. Use current rates of pay, and build in any known annual increments (again at current rates). You will not be able to claim for pay awards retrospectively, once your research is underway.
  • Travel, subsistence and conference costs. Where applicable, you will need to include the travel and subsistence costs of your project advisory group, steering committee and/or data monitoring & ethics committee. Travel and subsistence costs relating to dissemination should also be included, as should costs relating to overseas travel.
  • Equipment. Essential items of equipment plus maintenance and related costs as part of estates should be included. These can be lease or purchase costs.
    • The purchase cost of pieces of equipment, valued up to £5,000 excluding VAT, will be considered.
    • Pieces of equipment costing more than £5,000 to purchase will usually need to be leased. Where applicants are leasing equipment with a purchase price of more than £5,000, a comparison of leasing versus purchasing costs will be requested.
    • Items of equipment valued at £250 or more should be itemised separately at the contracting stage; however grouping same type equipment is permitted.
    • Costs of computers are normally restricted to a maximum of £1000 and a statement of justification must be included at the contracting stage section for any purchase above this limit.
  • Consumables such as non-reusable items specific to the research (e.g. postage, stationery, photocopying) not just general office costs which should be covered by indirect costs.
  • Patient and public involvement. If voluntary, charity or community groups are supporting the research via activities such as facilitating contact with potential participants, hosting research activities or providing advice, an adequate budget must be included to compensate for their time and resources.
    For further information on budgeting for involvement, please read the NIHR Payments Guidance for researchers and professionals.

2. Other direct costs

These are costs, not identified elsewhere, that are specifically attributed to the research. For example, external consultancy costs, computer licensing, costs associated with inclusivity (which may include, but are not limited to, justified translation of research participant material into other relevant languages), recruitment and advertising costs, and training specifically for the research team.

Open access costs

Applicants should no longer include open access costs as part of their application.

From the 1st of June 2022 all eligible awards contracts issued across NIHR Programmes, NIHR Personal Awards and NIHR Global Health Research Portfolio will have an Open Access Envelope allocated to them on top of the award value, which is ring-fenced for open access costs of peer reviewed research articles that arise directly from the research funded by the award in question.

Further information can be found by reading the Open Access Funding Guidance.

3. Indirect costs/overheads

Indirect costs will be charged in proportion to the amount of research staff effort requested on the award.

They comprise:

  • General office and basic laboratory consumables
  • Premises costs
  • Library services/learning resources
  • Typing/secretarial
  • Finance, personnel, public relations and departmental services
  • Usage costs of major research facilities
  • Central and distributed computing
  • Charge out rates for shared equipment
  • Cost of capital employed
NHS bodies or other providers of NHS services indirect costs

NHS indirect costs cannot be claimed through NIHR/DHSC programme funding. NHS bodies or other providers of NHS services have been allocated NIHR Research Capability Funding (RCF) to contribute to the cost of hosting NIHR/DHSC-supported research. For more information please visit the RCF web page.

HEI indirect costs

Please see the Programme Specific Information above.

Commercial/other partner organisation indirect costs

Commercial/other partner organisations can claim indirect costs which are the costs of resources used by the research that are shared by other activities. Please seek advice from your finance department about the appropriate cost to apply.

Total Commercial/other partner organisation indirect costs must be fully justified.

NHS support and treatment costs (incl. excess treatment costs/savings)

Please be aware that the research award does NOT include NHS support and/or treatment Costs. These costs, including costs for Social Care research, are funded via Clinical Research Networks and should be detailed in the Schedule of Events Cost Attribution Tool (SoECAT) when requested (see below for further details).

However, the committee will take NHS support and/or treatment costs into account when considering the value for money of the research. It is important that you consider these costs and discuss them with the NHS bodies or providers of NHS services involved in order to avoid any delay in commencing the research.

Applicants should contact their local NHS R&D Department initially and if they are unable to help directly, or if there is no local NHS R&D Department, contact their Local Clinical Research Network (LCRN) for advice on NHS Support Costs. Further details about LCRN contacts are available online at Clinical Research Network webpage.

When considered necessary by the LCRN AcoRD specialist, a Schedule of Events Cost Attribution Tool (SoECAT), detailing NHS support and/or Treatment Costs, may need to be completed after Stage 1 if successful. 

More information on the SoECAT form is available on the NIHR website, including:

NHS support costs

These are the additional patient care costs associated with the research, which would end once the R&D activity in question has stopped, even if the patient care service involved continues to be provided. These might cover items such as extra patient tests, extra in-patient days and extra nursing attention. Researchers should contact their local NHS R&D department initially and, if they are unable to help directly or if there is no local NHS R&D department, contact the Local Comprehensive Research Network (LCRN) senior manager for advice on NHS support costs. NOTE: Further details about LCRN contacts are available on the LCRN website.

NHS treatment costs

Please read the guidance on the excess treatment costs webpage on the funding of excess treatment costs prior to completing your application.

These are the patient care costs that would continue to be incurred if the patient care service in question continued to be provided after the R&D activity has stopped. In determining NHS treatment costs you must assume that the patient care service being assessed will continue even though there may be no plans for it to do so. Where patient care is being provided which differs from the normal, standard, treatment for that condition (either an experimental treatment or a service in a different location from where it would normally be given), the difference between the total treatment costs and the costs of the “usual standard care" (if any) constitutes excess treatment cost/saving, but is nonetheless part of the treatment cost, not an NHS support or research cost. These costs should be determined in conjunction with your NHS body or provider of NHS services and their commissioners.

Please note: Social care studies are eligible for Clinical Research Network (CRN) support, it does not just apply to NHS based research, and researchers should speak to the CRN and include support costs where relevant. For the purposes of social care studies ‘treatment costs’ should be interpreted as ‘intervention costs’ and should be included in the proposal when needed. Further guidance on support and ‘treatment’ costs can be found on the excess treatment costs webpage.

For further information on cost attribution, please see the attributing the costs of health and social care research and development (AcoRD) guidance.