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Research Programme for Social Care (RPSC) Frequently Asked Questions


Published: 26 September 2023

Version: 3.0 - March 2024

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This document outlines answers to questions frequently asked by applicants to funding calls by the Research Programme for Social Care.

Programme Structure/General 

What is the scope of RPSC?

The Research Programme for Social Care funds research which generates evidence to improve and strengthen the way in which social care is provided for users of care services, carers, the social care workforce and the public in the UK.

The RPSC funds primary, secondary and evidence synthesis research, including qualitative, quantitative and mixed methods designs. Social care research relevant to both adults and children, and both statutory and non-statutory social care provision, is within scope.

Will the RfSC programme continue alongside the RPSC and how will the two speak to each other/ interact?

RfSC will not continue after the completion of RfSC Call 7.

Is the Programme tiered like the RfPB Programme, i.e. tiers 1, 2, and 3, with associated cost levels and expectations for study design?

The Programme is not tiered like RfPB. RPSC does not have a budget limit for individual projects. Teams need to propose a budget that is appropriate for the proposed work packages, project duration, resources, public involvement, equality, diversity and inclusion strategy, and collaborations.

Please note that value for money will still be one of the key criteria of assessment.

Will a proportion of applications be rejected at Stage 1?

The Committee will reject a proportion of applications at stage one, based on their assessments of the quality of each application. There is no pre-set proportion for invited and rejected applications.

Who should I contact for support with my application?

Please note that there is an England wide social care RSS. We recommend you contact them for support as soon as you think about applying to RPSC.

If my application is unsuccessful, can I revise and resubmit?

Yes, you can apply to the subsequent open or available round. However, applicants should recognise that the original application was judged to be uncompetitive in that round, or significantly flawed, and is therefore likely to need substantive modification to have a realistic chance of being funded in future competitions. Applicants considering resubmission should therefore pay particularly close attention to any specific feedback provided on their previously unsuccessful application, as well as to the generic advice provided in the RPSC guidelines and on the website.

Please note that resubmitted applications will be treated as a new application, and there is no guarantee that addressing the feedback points from the previous unsuccessful application will result in funding. There is also no guarantee that the application will be assessed by the same assessors of the national committee. Applicants looking to resubmit an application should seek advice from the RSS.

Can we include time at the start of the study to gain REC approvals?

Yes, but there may be instances where the Committee will ask you to streamline the process by starting the research project alongside the REC approval process.


What is the remit of RPSC? 

The remit of RPSC and what we fund can be found in the programme scope

How will I know if my project falls with the Programme remit? 

RPSC welcomes applications that address social care issues. The Call specification as well as the scope and remit info in this page provides basic information about the remit of the Programme. We also encourage applicants to consult the Research Support Service (RSS) services and to submit the voluntary pre-submission form to the Programme team to assess. The Programme team will also be able to steer a project proposal to the most suitable NIHR social care funding if it does not fall within the remit of RPSC. Further information of all NIHR social care research, funding calls and other information can be found in the NIHR social care page.  

Is there a definition of social care and the topic area? 

We do not have a strict definition of social care, as we don’t want to be restrictive. We expect projects to make the case for how they will provide social care benefits. When writing your application please consider how it relates to social care including whether your outcomes are related to social care and ensure this is made clear in your application.

Do applications applying to social care calls have to be strict about not bordering on health topics at all, is this the case?

We look for a clear trajectory to social care benefit and impact from each application. RPSC welcomes projects that look at the intersection of social care with other determinants such as health, housing, employment. The social care trajectory needs to be the central focus of a project.

Is there a leaning towards domiciliary care (own home settings), or would studies involving care homes also be eligible?

RPSC does not have any preference for location of care. Research involving care homes would be considered if there is a clear social care benefit.  If the focus of the project is more on health in a care setting then it might be more appropriate for another NIHR programme.

Are co-applicants allowed to be involved in more than one application per funding round?

Yes, there are no limitations. 

Are co-applicants from social enterprises eligible? 

Yes, we welcome and encourage social enterprises to apply to RPSC. In the application form, please list the organisation as “other”. 

Does RPSC cover studies that only rely on existing secondary data?

Primary and secondary research are both eligible, however for secondary research, sources must be appropriately selected.

Can user-led organisations/non government organisations be the contracting organisation?

Yes, we are open to third sector organisations, but they would need to be able to fulfil the role of the Sponsor (or delegate it to an organisation that can).

Can commercial organisations apply as either lead applicant or co-applicant? 

Applications will be made through universities, local authorities/governments, NHS bodies or other providers of social care services across the UK. Technically commercial organisations could apply as providers of social care (like a private care home), but they would need to be able to fulfil the role of Sponsor (or delegate it to an organisation that can).

Are larger, ambitious studies in remit of the Programme?

Yes. Larger, ambitious studies, providing they are well-resourced and costed, are welcomed. We do however expect larger more expensive studies to be further along on their trajectory to impact

Would an applicant be eligible if they don't have much previous research funding and all previous grants have been as a Co-applicant?

They would be eligible for the open opportunity provided they have a strong research team around them to provide mentorship and support.They would also be eligible for the early career researcher opportunity provided they have not held a grant as chief investigator (excluding fellowships) of over £100,000 and/or within 5 years of completing a PhD.

Can a group of Public Advisers be co-applicants? 

There are 15 spaces on the RMS to add members of the research team. If this is not enough for your group,we would suggest appointing a Patient and Public Involvement (PPI) lead and having them on the system, and in the body of your application explain who the group are and what their role is. 

If there are two universities as partners can there be two PIs?

Joint Lead Applicants are allowed, and they can be from different universities, provided there is a justification.

Will commissioned calls also be put through this programme or is it for researcher-led projects only?

RPSC has two researcher-led calls per year and also operates commissioned calls on priority highlight topics. Find out more information and view our competition dates.

If a project is exploring something new and there is little yet known, is it acceptable to just have a medium to long term impact?

If you can demonstrate clear medium and long term social care benefit / impact, then this could be acceptable. Please note that your budget should be proportional to the anticipated impact.

Is there an advantage to an application from two co-leads if one has more academic research experience and one has more social care experience?

The Committee looks at the research team as a whole and assesses it for research experience, the presence of social care expertise, and expertise-by-experience.

Regarding inclusion of support for PhD students, can this be for an existing PhD student, or only for a new PhD student?

We are committed to supporting capacity building, so there are no restrictions on this. 

Do co-applicants from charity organisations require a research qualification? Can they get a research qualification as part of the research project they are applying for?

It is not necessary for co-applicants to have a research qualification, but we do expect the appropriate expertise to be present in the team. Capacity building funding may be used to develop their skills if appropriate. Please note, if you are applying as a Charity, you can find out more information on our charities page

Can we apply as a Local Authority?

Yes. Please see our Local Authority page for more information.

Do these have to be programme level type research projects  (like PGfAR) , or does the new stream want to see a range of type, size and scope of projects?

We would like to see a range of type, size, and scope of projects that fit within the RPSC's remit, projects with a clear trajectory to social care benefit and impact.

Are there any preferences for local vs regional vs national level studies?

RPSC does not prioritise local/regional/national level studies over each other in any way.

How will successful applications be selected?

The selection criteria used by the RPSC funding committees can be found in the programme scope


Is a SoECAT required in Stage 1?

The SoECAT is not required at Stage 1. However, applicants should contact their LCRN and ACORD specialist at the planning stage of their research.

All projects need to submit a SoECAT in Stage 2. For more information, please see the RPSC finance guidance and the online SoECAT guidance 

How should I determine the cost and duration of my project?

The amount awarded and the length of the funding period depend on the nature of the proposed work. Strong justification for the research duration and funding requested is required and will be considered by the reviewing committee.

What is a SoECAT?

The Schedule of Events Cost Attribution Tool (SoECAT) is a tool for use with non-commercial research studies. It functions as a cost attribution template but is not intended as a study costing tool. Please use the guidance on completing the SoECAT

How will the new SoECAT system work for RPSC? 

Please be aware that if your planned project includes the recruitment of participants, your application should be accompanied with the Funder Export from the online SoECAT, obtainable via the NIHR Central Portfolio Management System (CPMS).

Please contact your LCRN and ACORD specialist at the planning stage of your research to discuss the need for a SoECAT.

In order to create a SoECAT, you will need to create an account in CPMS. After creating the account, you will need to login to CPMS to activate this account. If any assistance is required in creating the account, please refer to our user guide. Once your account has been created and is active, you can proceed.

Guidance for the completion of the SoECAT by the applicant is present in the online tool to assist at each page and stage of the application process and further details can be found on the Online SoECAT Guidance page.

There is also an Online SoECAT Guidance Module which includes video tutorials and linked resources (an NIHR Learn account is required to access and enrol onto the module) and a helpful Study Representative - Online SoECAT Top Tips infographic.

How are research costs, NHS treatment costs and support costs categorised? And what supports are there for social care researchers?

Research Costs are the costs of the research activity itself, data collection, analysis and other activities needed to answer the research questions. Research costs are met by the funder (e.g. RPSC). 

Support Costs include the additional user-related care costs associated with the research, which would end once the R&D activity has stopped, even if the care service involved continued to be provided.They are met by the Research Design Network (RDN) (previously known as the Clinical Research Network -CRN)

Treatment Costs (i.e. Intervention/service Costs) are the care costs that would continue to be incurred if the care service in question continued to be provided after the R&D activity has stopped. 

Excess Treatment Cost (ETC) is the difference between the total Treatment Costs and the costs of the standard care currently provided. Treatment costs should be met by the commissioner of the care service (e.g. NHS, local authorities, third sector etc.).

The committee will take treatment, intervention or service 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 Trust, local authorities, third sector organisations or care/service providers involved in order to avoid any delay in commencing the research.   

Typically treatment, intervention and service costs should be met by the commissioner, such as the local authority. Where it is not possible for the commissioner to pay the costs, social care research studies funded by NIHR may be eligible for intervention cost support from the DHSC. In order to apply for this, researchers will need to complete an additional proforma as part of their Stage 2 application. Please see further guidance on Public Health and Social Care Excess Treatment Costs (ETCs). 

Please note that this proforma is not a substitute to SoECAT (see below) and it will only be submitted if you are asking for additional funds to support intervention cost when such a fund is not available from the commissioner, i.e. local authority. It is encouraged to write to us well ahead of time if you think you may have an intervention cost. 

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

What level of FEC/indirect income can be included in the budget? 

NIHR does not have a cap on indirect expenses, but it must be proportional to the FTE and calculated using TRAC methodology. Please see our finance guidance for more information.

Is there a limit on R&D and equipment costs when compared to overall project 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 must be provided in the ‘Justification of Costs’ section. For more information please see our finance guidance

To apply for a grant to evaluate a new service, can service costs be included in the research grant request?

Typically treatment, intervention and service costs should be met by the commissioner, such as the local authority. Where it is not possible for the commissioner to pay the costs, social care research studies funded by NIHR may be eligible for intervention cost support from the DHSC. In order to apply for this, researchers will need to complete an additional proforma as part of their Stage 2 application. Please see further guidance on Public Health and Social Care Excess Treatment Costs (ETCs). RPSC and the committee will take treatment, intervention or service costs into account when considering the value for money of the research. 

If you have to employ a professional to complete a new intervention which is not presently funded or provided and is being researched, then could this be included in agreed funding?

This would typically be an 'Excess Treatment/Intervention' cost assuming the need for this person to complete the new intervention would continue after the research project finished.  These costs would not typically be covered by RPSC and are usually provided by the organisation providing the intervention.

Is there a minimum time commitment/costing for the lead applicant?

RPSC does not have any minimum or maximum cut off for lead applicants or any team member’s time commitments. However the time commitment should be proportionate and realistic to achieve the research objectives. Appropriate time commitment also depends on the skill and experience of the lead applicant.

Early Career Researcher Opportunity 

I am an early career researcher, can I choose the open opportunity, or do I need to take the specific ECR opportunity? 

As an ECR, there is no restriction on applying to the open opportunity. You can ask for any amount of funding proportionate to your project and that is supported by a team. 

The protected ECR opportunity is an additional opportunity that ECR applicants can use. In the Stage 1 application, you have the option to choose the ECR or open opportunity. In the application you can give details on why you consider yourself an ECR based on the definition. 

For the ECR opportunity, is the ECR applying as the PI on the project rather than the joint lead applicant?

Yes, the ECR opportunity is aimed for early career researchers to apply as the lead applicant.

Would an applicant still be classed as ECR if they've previously been joint-CI on previous grants over £100,000 (and not as sole CI on any applications)?

No. We consider anyone who has been joint-CI on any previous grants over £100,000 as having led a study.

Can we cost in time for mentoring by a senior colleague for ECR applicants?

Yes, this is mandatory. We would still expect an experienced co-applicant to be a mentor to the ECR and for them to be costed appropriately. Please see our finance guidance for more information.

How can ECRs become members of the Reviewers Development Scheme (ReVDs)?

Any social care researcher can act as a reviewer by becoming an NIHR peer reviewer. For details, please check the For details, please check the peer reviewer webpage. However, if you are specifically interested to join the NIHR Reviewers Development Scheme, please have a look at the webpage for information. 

Does the ECR need to have already passed their viva or can PhD students who have just submitted their thesis be eligible?

PhD students who have just submitted their thesis are eligible for the ECR opportunity, provided they are comfortable with assuming the position and have an appropriately experienced team.

Can an ECR come from the third sector if they are well supported/associated with a University?

Yes, provided they have the appropriate support.

Capacity building 

What opportunities does RPSC have for research capacity building? 

RPSC offers all applicants the opportunity to embed capacity building within an application. As a general rule, it is anticipated that 10% to 20% of the overall project budget should be spent on capacity building within the application, but each request will be reviewed on its merits.

In terms of capacity building costs, can PhD stipends/fees and costed time for mentoring by a senior colleague for ECR applicants be included in the budget?

RPSC has no rules against embedding PhD costs (including stipends) within its capacity building, as long as it is within 10-20% of the overall budget of the research project. All ECR applicants need to be mentored by senior colleagues.

Can we include costs for a living costs stipend as well as course fees for an MSc or PhD student as part of capacity building

We've left it fairly open in terms of what can be included as part of the capacity building and it will be down to the researchers to justify how the funding will be utilised and provide value for money.  The committee will then take this into consideration as part of the assessment.