Accessible documents policy

Accessible documents at Cabinet Office

This policy explains how accessible the documents Cabinet Office publishes on GOV.UK are. It covers PDFs, spreadsheets, presentations and other types of document. It doesn’t cover content published on GOV.UK as HTML: the main GOV.UK accessibility statement covers that.

Using our documents

Cabinet Office publishes documents in a range of formats, including PDFs, ODTs, Excel Sheets, CSVs and PowerPoint slides.

We want as many people as possible to be able to use those documents. For example, when we produce a document we try to:

  • provide an HTML option where possible
  • tag headings and other parts of the document properly, so screen readers can understand the page structure
  • make sure we include alt text alongside non-decorative images, so people who can’t see them understand what they’re there for
  • avoid using tables, except when we’re presenting data
  • write in plain English

How accessible our documents are

New documents and documents you need to download to access one of our services should be fully accessible.

However, we know that some of our documents (published before 23 September 2018) aren’t accessible. For example, some of them:

  • aren’t tagged up properly – for example, they don’t contain proper headings
  • aren’t written in plain English

This mostly applies to our PDFs and other documents published before 23 September 2018, audio and video content and archived parts of our site.

These types of documents are exempt from the regulations, so we don’t currently have any plans to make them accessible.

But if you need to access information in one of these document types, you can contact us and ask for an alternative format.

What to do if you can’t use one of our documents

If you need a document we’ve published in a different format:

We’ll consider the request and get back to you within 15 working days.

Reporting accessibility problems with one of our documents

We’re always looking to improve the accessibility of our documents. If you find any problems that aren’t listed on this page or you think we’re not meeting accessibility requirements, contact us.

Enforcement procedure

The Equality and Human Rights Commission (EHRC) is responsible for enforcing the Public Sector Bodies (Websites and Mobile Applications) (No. 2) Accessibility Regulations 2018 (the ‘accessibility regulations’). If you’re not happy with how we respond to your complaint, contact the Equality Advisory and Support Service (EASS).

Technical information about the accessibility of our documents

Cabinet Office is committed to making our documents accessible, in accordance with the Public Sector Bodies (Websites and Mobile Applications) (No. 2) Accessibility Regulations 2018.

The documents Cabinet Office publishes are partially compliant with the Web Content Accessibility Guidelines version 2.1 AA standard, due to the non-compliances listed below.

Non-accessible content

PDFs and Word documents

When we publish PDFs, we aim to also publish an HTML alternative. Sometimes we have to publish PDFs at short notice, but we will add an HTML version as soon as possible.

When we publish MS Word documents, we also publish an .odt version.

Some of our PDF and MS Word documents include images without a text alternative. This means that the information in them is not available to people using a screen reader. This does not meet WCAG 2.1 success criterion 1.1.1 (non-text content).

We plan to add text alternatives for all relevant images. When we publish new documents we’ll make sure our use of images meets accessibility standards.

Some of our PDFs contain complex tables with merged cells. This makes it difficult for people using a screen reader to determine the correct reading order. This does not meet WCAG 2.1 success criterion 1.3.1 (info and relationships).

Some of the documents we publish are produced by third parties. We’re not always able to make these fully compliant, for example by adding the appropriate heading structure or alternative text for images. This does not meet success criterion 2.4.10 (section headings). or success criterion 1.1.1 (non-text content).

We have informed third parties of our accessibility requirements but sometimes we have to publish documents at short notice that are not accessible.


Some of our MS Excel spreadsheets may not be clearly structured with labelled tables, and labelled headings. Columns headings may be blank. Workbooks tabs may not have a clear title. This does not meet success criterion 1.3.1 (info and relationships).

We will make sure all new spreadsheets have an appropriate structure. We also publish .ods versions and see if the spreadsheet can be presented as .csv or HTML format.

Disproportionate burden

Some of our PDFs are not accessible but would be a disproportionate burden to update, particularly those which are extremely long and used by a low number of people.

Many of our older PDFs and Word documents don’t meet accessibility standards – for example, they may not be structured so they’re accessible to a screen reader. This doesn’t meet WCAG 2.1 success criterion 4.1.2.

The accessibility regulations don’t require us to fix PDFs or other documents published before 23 September 2018 if they’re not essential to providing our services. For example, we don’t plan to fix the PDFs on the Civil Service Reform page.

Any new PDFs or Word documents we publish will meet accessibility standards.

How we tested our documents

We last tested a sample of our documents on 20 September 2020. The test was carried out by Cabinet Office.

We tested:

  • PDFs
  • HTMLs
  • Open Docs
  • Scans
  • Excel Docs
  • Powerpoints

What we’re doing to improve accessibility

To improve the accessibility of our GOV.UK documents, we:

  • have produced internal guidance and templates to ensure that new documents we produce are accessible
  • ask authors to write in plain English and to publish documents in HTML format
  • produce HTML alternatives where we have to publish PDFs
  • have terms and conditions specifying that authors, designers and typesetters must supply accessible documents
  • review and edit older documents to add features to make them more accessible to people using screen readers
  • add alt-text to graphs, diagrams and flowcharts

This page was prepared on 20 September 2019. It was last updated on 2 March 2022.