Content design: planning, writing and managing content

Withdrawing or unpublishing content, and content from previous governments

When you should withdraw content, when you should unpublish content, and what content gets labelled as from a previous government.


GOV.UK only shows up-to-date and current information that meets a user need. If there is not a user need or a statutory duty to publish, it should not be on GOV.UK.

There are 2 ways to deal with content when it has come to the end of its life - you can either withdraw it, or unpublish it.

Withdraw outdated content items

If you withdraw content, it will still be on GOV.UK but will not appear in internal search results. Withdrawn content will appear beneath a call-out box which tells the user it has been withdrawn and is no longer current.

Guidance formats should be edited and updated when they become out of date. Do not create a new content item unless there’s a new and distinct user need for it.

Other content items, especially time-bound pages such as news articles, press releases and newsletters, can be withdrawn when they’re no longer current (for example, if they’re over a year old).

You should withdraw expired schemes and services too, or policy papers that aren’t current or relevant. If you have policy papers that are mostly correct, but link to an expired scheme or service, edit the page to update it and remove the link.

The ‘history mode’ notices will appear higher on pages that were published under a former government, but have also been withdrawn.

A broad test to keep in mind when deciding to withdraw a content item is, ‘will leaving it as it is get in the way of a non-specialist user?’ For example, an old policy announcement about a benefit that’s appearing in search above the guide on how to claim that benefit.

Find out how to withdraw content.


Consultations are an important part of the policy-creation process, and are useful to people who scrutinise government. Do not withdraw them unless you know that a subsequent consultation directly supersedes an existing one.

Frequent infrastructure plan changes

Withdraw content items that show an earlier iteration of a plan, such as old plans for the HS2 train line route. Withdraw everything but the most up to date plans.

Include a link to a collection that includes the most up to date version, rather than an individual publication page. By linking to a collection, your link will always lead to a canonical list of up to date plans.

Editing withdrawn content

You can edit withdrawn content if you need to:

  • fix a broken link
  • edit a typo
  • improve the title or summary

Find out how to edit withdrawn content.

Unpublishing content items

If you unpublish content, it will be removed from GOV.UK. Users will not be able to find it. Publishers will still be able to access it through the publishing applications.

Content should not normally be unpublished from the GOV.UK website

However, you can unpublish a page from the GOV.UK website when:

  • the content has been included in another page (make sure you redirect to it)
  • the user need is better met elsewhere on GOV.UK (redirect to it)
  • you published it in error, or before you were meant to
  • someone has exercised their right to erasure (right to be forgotten)
  • it contains someone’s personal details
  • it contains details of a spent conviction
  • it’s out of proposition for GOV.UK
  • it infringes copyright
  • it’s defamatory or obscene

Removing personal or sensitive information

If you unpublish a page because it has someone’s personal data on it (such as right to be forgotten or convictions) or other sensitive information:

  • unpublish the page, using ‘Unpublish: consolidated into another GOV.UK page’
  • redirect it to an appropriate page
  • if there’s no replacement content, redirect to the GOV.UK homepage to avoid creating a ‘404’ error message
  • securely record the URL of the page you’re unpublishing (also do this if you unpublish the page for copyright reasons or defamation)

The National Archives’ UK Government Web Archive might contain a snapshot of the page you’ve unpublished. You should ask them to remove the page from public view too. You do not need to do this if you’re unpublishing it because it’s included in another page, was published by mistake, or is out of proposition.

Find out how to unpublish content.

Content from previous governments (‘history mode’)

History mode tells users they’re reading something that was published by a previous government.

See what history mode looks like.

Content in history mode does not need to be ‘withdrawn’ as well unless it should be for other reasons.

Read the guidance on history mode.

Removing history mode to edit content

Content in history mode should only be edited if:

  • it contains an error like a typo or a broken link
  • you need to add a response to a consultation

Contact GDS to remove something from history mode.