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This publication is licensed under the terms of the Open Government Licence v3.0 except where otherwise stated. To view this licence, visit nationalarchives.gov.uk/doc/open-government-licence/version/3 or write to the Information Policy Team, The National Archives, Kew, London TW9 4DU, or email: email@example.com.
Where we have identified any third party copyright information you will need to obtain permission from the copyright holders concerned.
This publication is available at https://www.gov.uk/government/publications/request-an-exemption-from-govuk/exemptions-guidance
You must not create any new central government website, microsite or public facing domain outside of GOV.UK without a specific exemption or campaign approval. This applies to both .gov.uk and non-government domains (like org.uk, co.uk or .com).
All new websites or modifications to existing websites which involve expenditure over £100,000 must also comply with the requirements of the Cabinet Office controls. This is entirely separate from a GOV.UK exemption.
This guide explains how to apply for an exemption from GOV.UK. Exemptions are granted by departmental Digital Leaders following an initial assessment and recommendation by GDS.
This guide does not explain how to set up email domains, service domains and campaigns. You can find separate guidance on how to set up:
2. Grounds for exemption from GOV.UK
A website may be granted exemption from GOV.UK if it meets the requirements of categories A, B or C.
2.1 Category A: site or organisation is due to close
Existing websites which government organisations have committed to close, usually within a period of the next 6 months, are exempt.
2.2 Category B: a GOV.UK presence for an organisation would substantially compromise its ability to carry out its mission
Some government organisations may be able to claim exemption from GOV.UK for their corporate publishing under the following categories.
Separation of powers
In order to clearly maintain separation of powers, exemption from the GOV.UK platform will be permitted for content that falls under the proposition of the following domains:
nhs.uk: exemptions will be available to organisations whose operational function directly relates to the improvement in the physical and mental health of people, and in the prevention, diagnosis and treatment of physical and mental illness (only when they can provide significant evidence that the affiliation to GOV.UK would impact upon the delivery of front-line services)
police.uk and judiciary: exemptions will only be available to those organisations with policing or prosecuting powers or organisations with oversight of government that is directly connected to the deprivation of liberty of individuals (only when they can provide significant evidence that this affiliation would impact upon their organisational success)
parliament.uk: an exemption will be granted for parliament.uk and all of its domains to protect the integrity of the law-making and Parliamentary scrutiny process
Armed Forces: an exemption will be granted for Army, Navy and Air Force and all of their approved domains to protect the integrity of the operation and delivery of the armed forces services nationally and internationally
Academia: organisations that sit on the boundary between government and academia may have implications for separation of powers (for example, the Haldane principle for academia, or could impact upon the governance of an internationally directed scheme. Decisions will be made on a case-by-case basis
Charities, mutuals and social enterprises
GOV.UK will not provide a corporate publishing destination for registered charities, mutuals or social enterprises.
If an organisation is not majority (>50%) government funded (whether through direct funding or statutory ability to charge fees or raise levies), then control of the website clearly sits with the organisation in question and they are therefore entitled for exemption.
Bodies who act on behalf of individuals or consumers
Organisations who operate to advocate for individual or consumer rights, and whose operational success is determined by their distance from government, must demonstrate clear public benefit from their separation in order to be granted exemption from GOV.UK.
Sector or industry-led bodies
Corporate publishing by sector or industry-led bodies is exempt from GOV.UK, on the assumption that both the organisations and web publishing are led by the sectors themselves. Although some of these organisations have a mixed funding model (including some public money under contract or industry levies), the critical consideration is whether organisational success depends on their continuing to be sector or industry led.
Organisations that generate over 25% of their income from commercial activity in a competitive marketplace (sources external to government) may be granted exemption from GOV.UK if there are sufficient grounds that such a move could hinder their ability to generate income. This includes income raised from research (for example, from EU research programmes) or from other international governments (for example, joint UK and US funded programmes).
Consideration will be given to organisations maintaining a separate website for commercial activities, with corporate, regulatory, citizen and business-facing content moving to GOV.UK.
Organisations that generate their revenue through enacting government legislation (for example, by collecting fines) will not be exempted from GOV.UK.
Responsibility to devolved administrations
Some bodies have responsibilities to both the UK government and devolved governments and this needs to be respected, reflected and clear to users. It is recognised that there may be constitutional or political implications of any decisions made regarding such bodies.
Such bodies could provide content solely on GOV.UK or could provide content on GOV.UK with a parallel corporate presence on devolved administration websites, with both explaining their responsibilities across countries and to all governments. If neither option can be agreed to the satisfaction of all parties, then, for now, exemption status will have to apply. However, this should be subject to review over time in light of changes to organisational responsibility.
2.3 Category C: an online destination outside GOV.UK is critical to meeting user needs
The GOV.UK proposition is designed to reflect the broad range of needs that users have of government information. If there’s a user need for government to publish content about something, then GOV.UK will tend to be the most effective vehicle through which to meet this need.
However, in some cases GOV.UK may not be the best platform to address a user need. This may be because the user need falls outside of the GOV.UK proposition (for example, it involves provision of general advice or professional training) or because GOV.UK lacks some of the functionality needed to address the need. If you apply under this category then you’ll need to clearly explain your users’ needs and why GOV.UK is not best placed to handle them.
3. Invalid grounds for exemption
The following are not sufficient grounds for exemption from GOV.UK:
- content style or ownership: GDS are in charge of the format and appearance of corporate and specialist content on GOV.UK, but organisations will have control over the content
- resilience of the GOV.UK publishing platform
- perceived loss of brand: organisational branding can exist on GOV.UK within the constraints of the overall GOV.UK branding and design, and the HM Government identity and branding guidelines. Exemption from GOV.UK does not mean that a site is out of scope of the Cabinet Office Consistent Branding Project
- perceived loss of independence: GOV.UK should not be considered as diminishing an government organisation’s independence in discharging their statutory powers. In certain situations publishing on GOV.UK may require a public statement by ministers that organisations on GOV.UK have complete control over their corporate and specialist content (for example, regulators and those taking decisions against the government)
- being a regulator: ministers and statutory legislation protect the functional independence of regulators. The public expect regulators to be part of government even when the regulator may be called upon to regulate other parts of government
4. Apply for exemption
You’ll need to include the following in the form:
- the category of exemption that you’re seeking
- your proposed domain name (which cannot be a .gov.uk domain if you’re applying under Category B)
- confirmation that your Digital Leader has given their approval
You’ll need to ensure that you go through the spend control process (if necessary) at the same time.
Once we’ve received your exemption request, we’ll review it and might ask you for more information. Once we’ve got enough information, we’ll make a recommendation and then circulate this recommendation to Digital Leaders. We’ll then let you know of the decision within 28 days of the date of your request.
Once your exemption request is granted and you’ve been through spend control (if necessary), you may then acquire the domain name stated in your exemption application.
If your website has been granted an exemption for a limited period of time, you will need to ensure that it is closed by the agreed time. Failure to do so may mean needing to complete the exemption process again.