Revised Definition of UK Sharing Economy Unveiled

The Office for National Statistics (ONS) has released a significant update regarding the measurement of the sharing economy in the UK. This research update, published on September 19, 2023, outlines revisions to their working definition of the sharing economy and summarizes insights and progress made since their initial release in October 2020.

Overview of Changes:

  1. Review of the 2017 ONS Definition: The ONS initiated research into the sharing economy in 2015 and introduced a working definition in 2017. However, as the sharing-economy model evolved, the existing definition became less applicable to well-known sharing-economy businesses. The ONS conducted qualitative research and concluded that the definition needed to be updated to encompass a wider range of businesses, no longer restricting it to transactions solely between individuals.
  2. Adoption of ISO Definition: In November 2021, the International Organization for Standardization (ISO) published ISO 42500:2021 Sharing economy – General principles, which includes a broader definition of the sharing economy. The ONS reviewed various definitions and found that the ISO definition closely aligned with user needs identified in their research. To provide flexibility, they proposed a tiered definition based on ISO’s definition, which includes additional categories that can be included or excluded depending on research purposes.
  3. Rationale for Tiered Definition: Recognizing the difficulty in obtaining universal agreement on what should be included in the definition, the ONS introduced a tiered definition. The main definition represents widely accepted business models within the sharing economy, while the tiered definition includes additional categories that may be contentious. This approach allows for adaptability to include or exclude specific categories as needed.

Key Points:

  • The main definition includes traditional sharing-economy models characterized by sharing and exchanging excess goods and services facilitated by digital intermediary platforms.
  • The tiered definition includes categories such as the transfer of ownership of unwanted second-hand goods on digital marketplaces, which are often considered part of the sharing economy, even though ownership changes hands.
  • Platforms that facilitate exchanges of time and skills for money, known as the gig economy, fit the ISO definition but are an area of debate regarding their inclusion in the sharing economy.

Knowledge Gaps and Challenges:

The update acknowledges challenges in identifying sharing-economy businesses, particularly those not easily classified under existing industrial classification systems. Challenges also arise in collecting data from small businesses and individuals participating in the sharing economy, as many may not be registered as companies or may view sharing as a lifestyle choice rather than an income source.


The ONS has made significant progress in refining its definition of the sharing economy, aiming to provide a more accurate and adaptable framework to measure this evolving economic model. This research update is part of ongoing efforts to better understand and quantify the impact of the sharing economy in the UK.

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