GDS to offer departments new GOV.UK Forms design platform

Online Redundancy Payments service is the first to be built using tool, which aims to tackle the difficulties caused by the thousands of services that rely on PDFs

Credit: Crown Copyright/Open Government Licence v3.0

The Government Digital Service is developing a GOV.UK Forms tool to be used throughout government to help non-technical staff design online services.

The service also aims to solve issues caused by the ongoing use of thousands of document-based forms that exclude users with disabilities and fail to comply with accessibility regulation.

The form-building platform is now in private beta phase, during which GDS is working with a selection of partner agencies. One of these – the Insolvency Service – has just launched a new iteration of its Redundancy Payments Service that is the first online citizen service to incorporate elements built using GOV.UK Forms.

Development work will continue during the coming months, towards the aim of launching the platform for use across government sometime in 2023. Once complete, the tool will provide a web-based system enabling the design of HTML online forms to be included in digital services. No coding knowledge will be required, GDS said. 

The digital agency said that the system is being created to address the issues caused by the 8,500 forms currently featured as part of GOV.UK services that use document formats, such as PDFs, rather than HTML. Document-based forms are invariably easier to create than digital versions – particularly for those without much coding expertise.

But they present significant challenges for both civil servants and, crucially, for citizens.

“These forms can be either very difficult or impossible to fill out for users with certain disabilities,” said GDS. “They’re also harder and take longer to process for government teams.”

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Forms that are solely offered as PDFs are also often in breach of regulations that require digital public services to comply with international guidelines on accessibility. Government research published earlier this year found that almost 99% of public sector websites examined during 2020 and 2021 were not compliant – with the use of PDFs, rather than HTML forms, cited as a major issue.

With a new form added to GOV.UK at the rate of about one a day, GDS decided that it needed “to act now to stop this number growing further”.

“We want to help colleagues by providing them with a way that allows teams to create accessible, easy-to-use and quick-to-process digital forms,” it said. “We think that by providing tried and tested components and patterns – for example a confirmation page that advises an applicant what happens next after filling in a form, radio buttons to select an option, or email validation – we can help form creators to achieve this goal.”

The first form to go live after being built using the new tool allows those who have previously made a claim for redundancy pay to amend details regarding holiday pay accrued. 

This form was chosen because it is “a straightforward form that doesn’t use any trickier kinds of question”.  GDS will work with partner agencies in the coming weeks to develop more sophisticated elements of functionality “like marking questions as optional or allowing users to upload files or add multiple responses to a question”.

“Looking ahead, lots of teams have asked us about how else they might use form submission data and so, in the future, we might want to look at sending aggregated data and integration with other applications,” the digital unit added.

Alongside the Insolvency Service, partners supporting the private beta phase include HM Revenue and Customs, the Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs, the Driver and Vehicle Standards Agency, and the Maritime and Coastguard Agency.

The team delivering GOV.UK Forms also engages regularly with counterparts in departments that have previously built their own form-building tool – including the Ministry of Justice, and the Foreign, Commonwealth and Development Office.

GDS said it welcomes enquiries from any other parts of government, and the current website (pictured above) for the form-building tool features a ‘Register your interest’ button. 

“If you or your colleagues are non-digital, data or technology specialists, using document-based forms for low-volume services – typically 250-10,000 submission per year – and interested in being an early tester for GOV.UK Forms, please contact the team,” it added.


Sam Trendall

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