Online service launched to apply for GOV.UK exemptions

Government departments – who must be granted approval for using an alternative platform – can now use a digital service to put their case for permission to be given to do so

Departments can now use a publicly-available online process to request an exemption to host their website or services on platforms other than GOV.UK.

Central government agencies are mandated to run their website via GOV.UK – which was launched by the Government Digital Service 11 years ago to replace a previous patchwork of differing systems with a single and consistent online infrastructure. Any departments wishing to run their site or services on an alternative platform must first apply for – and be granted – a formal exemption to do so.

This process can now be completed via a simple online application, newly launched on GOV.UK by GDS.

Before beginning to apply, users are first advised that, “before applying for an exemption from GOV.UK. you’ll need approval to spend money on creating a new website under the digital and technology spend controls”.

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The form first asks users to provide information of their organisation and, where applicable, its sponsoring department, as well as their details, those of the “technology and digital leader who approved the application”, and proposed domain name for the intended site or service.

After this core information has been submitted, the service asks for provide responses of up to 300 words in answer to two questions, addressing why the needs of the organisation’s users would not be met by GOV.UK, and what is the evidence for this being the case.

Once these responses have been completed, the online form requesting exemption can be submitted to GDS.

The digital unit’s guidance for departments on the role of government’s centralised web platform – called the GOV.UK proposition – advises organisations that, while it requires special dispensation, there may sometimes be good reason to host content and services elsewhere.

“There may be instances where independence from GOV.UK is the best way to serve user needs, for example where association with central government may stop users engaging with content,” it says. “You can apply for an exemption if you have evidence that user needs can be better met on a website other than GOV.UK.”

The proposition underwent a significant update in 2020, which GDS said reflected the fact that “qualifying requirements [for exemptions] are now more stringent… as GOV.UK continues to develop and provide greater functionality, there will be less of a case for exemptions from the site”.

The updated requirements came alongside a review of existing exemptions – which GDS has the power to revoke.

Sam Trendall

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