Content design: planning, writing and managing content

Withdrawing and unpublishing content, and labelling content from previous governments

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


Content on GOV.UK should be kept as a public record, even if it’s no longer current. It should only be withdrawn in certain circumstances.

Information that users need to act on (eg guidance or services) should be kept up to date.

When to withdraw content

Only withdraw content to stop users acting on outdated information when trying to complete a task. For example if a scheme closes, you should withdraw the guidance and forms about it.

Users will still be able to view withdrawn content. It’ll remain on the site as a historical record of the scheme.

See a good example of when content has been withdrawn.

Find out how to withdraw content.

When not to withdraw content

Do not withdraw content:

  • if it’s a factual statement of the government’s position at a particular time, eg a speech, news story, press release, policy paper
  • just because it’s old, eg a newsletter that was published 3 years ago
  • in the event of a new government
  • if the organisation responsible for publishing it is closed

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.

When a new government is formed, the following types of content are automatically put into history mode:

  • policy papers
  • news stories from organisations involved in the development of policy
  • press releases
  • speeches
  • consultations
  • government responses
  • impact assessments
  • corporate or annual reports

Content with history mode appears lower down on GOV.UK search - unless there’s evidence that users are still looking for it.

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 if you need to do this.

Unpublishing content

Unpublishing content (removing it completely) isn’t transparent and can damage our reputation.

Only unpublish content if it:

  • was published by mistake
  • has been consolidated into another GOV.UK page
  • contains sensitive personal data
  • breaches copyright laws
  • includes material that users find obscene or defamatory

In exceptional circumstances you can unpublish content if it could result in a risk to health, finances or reputation.

Always redirect unpublished pages to related content if it exists. This gives users an onward journey.

Role of the National Archives’ UK Government Web Archive

The UK Government Web Archive keeps records of government web content. It regularly takes copies of whole websites including GOV.UK.