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.

Overview

Content on GOV.UK should be kept as a public record, even if it’s no longer current. It should only be labelled as ‘withdrawn’ in certain circumstances.

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

When to withdraw content

Label content as ‘withdrawn’ when the information within it is not the most up to date version, or can’t be acted on anymore. For example if a scheme closes, you should withdraw the guidance and forms about it. Similarly, withdraw a press release or news story if it contains guidance that becomes incorrect.

Users will still be able to view withdrawn content. It’ll remain on the site as a historical record of the scheme, but with a box explaining it’s no longer current.

See a good example of when content has been withdrawn.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, such as a speech or policy paper
  • if it’s a news story or press release (unless it contains incorrect guidance)
  • because it’s old, there’s no age restrictions on content
  • because there’s a version of the content on a web archive
  • 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.

Content in history mode doesn’t need to be ‘withdrawn’ as well.

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.

Unpublishing content

Unpublishing content (deleting it) 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
  • includes details of convictions - speak to your legal team to find out when it must be removed

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

When unpublishing because the content has been consolidated into another GOV.UK page, redirect users to that new page.

Redirect users from unpublished pages whenever possible to avoid dead end journeys.