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Agile delivery

Spend controls: check if you need approval to spend money on a service

If you want to spend money on a digital or technology service, you may have to get approval from the Government Digital Service (GDS).

This process is known as ‘spend controls’.

You’ll need to follow different guidance if your department has signed up to the new pipeline process. Check with your digital or technology lead to find out.

Why some services must get spend approval

GDS requires services to get spending approval to make sure they’re built in line with the Technology Code of Practice.

You should read the code before starting work on your service and use it when making decisions about technology.

The spend controls process exists to make sure:

  • you’ve considered the needs of the people who’ll use the service
  • you get the best value
  • you only spend on programmes and projects that meet government digital and technology strategies
  • private businesses and members of the public can see how government makes decisions about spending money on digital projects or technology
  • you discover and solve any problems with your service before you spend money
  • you develop services using agile methods

How GDS decides which services need approval

GDS decides whether your service needs approval based on these 3 factors:

  • whether your department is a central government department - download the public sector classification guide to find out
  • whether GDS classes your service as a digital service or a technology service
  • the amount of money you want to spend

When your service is considered a digital service

GDS considers your service a digital service if it’s online and it’ll be used by people who are not part of government, for example:

  • citizens
  • businesses
  • other non-government organisations

The following are examples of digital services:

  • transactional services (a service where the user gives personal details to government, for example applying for a passport)
  • information services (a service where the user does not have to give personal details, for example a tax or benefit calculator)
  • web applications
  • mobile apps
  • websites
  • extranets

GDS does not consider your service a digital service if you’re creating content (and not a service) on:

When you need approval for digital services

You must get approval to spend any amount of money on a new digital service that meets one or more of these conditions:

  • it’s for the general public
  • it uses identity assurance
  • it requires domain registration
  • it uses external-facing digital transactions
  • it features website or mobile apps

For any other digital service, you must get approval to spend more than £100,000.

When your service is considered a technology service

GDS considers your service a technology service if it meets all of these conditions:

  • it’s internal facing
  • it’s delivered by government for government

When you need approval for technology

For technology that costs more than £1 million

You must get approval to spend more than £1 million on any technology which is also delivered by Independent Shared Service Centres (ISSC), including:

  • enterprise resource planning (ERP) systems
  • human resource systems
  • finance or accounting systems
  • procurement systems

For technology that costs more than £5 million

You must get approval to spend more than £5 million on technology, including any spending that’s related to the Public Services Network (PSN).

‘Technology’ means all parts of the service you’re proposing to build, including the following types of support:

  • contacts in hosting
  • data centres
  • voice and video
  • security
  • third party support

Technology spending that counts as part of your total spend

If GDS has classed your project as a technology project, any money you spend on the following counts as part of the total spend figure you must use when checking if you need spend approval:

  • contract amendments, extensions or renewals
  • licences
  • spending through existing frameworks, for example cloud or commercial
  • feasibility or proof of concept studies
  • pilots
  • projects (or any part of a project) and programmes - find out the difference between projects and programmes
  • any changes, enhancements, maintenance or refreshes
  • common infrastructure solutions including voice and data communications
  • PSN, whether fixed or mobile
  • programmes that you’ve broken into smaller projects which individually are below the thresholds, but which are above them in total

Assisted digital spending that counts as part of your total spend

You should consider the following types of assisted digital support as part of your spend:

  • face-to-face support
  • phone support, for example call centres
  • third party intermediary support, like service integrators, consultancies or partners
  • other channels that allow users to access the digital service, such as letters

Projects that usually will not be approved

GDS usually will not give you approval to spend money on the following activities:

  • entering into an IT contract that’s worth more than £100 million
  • contracting a company to supply you with system integration after you’ve already contracted them to provide you with a service in the same part of government - find out why government has moved away from a towers model
  • renewing contracts automatically
  • offering new hosting contracts that last longer than 2 years
  • building native or hybrid apps

If you want approval to spend money on one of these activities, contact GDS by emailing

Apply for approval

Find out how to apply for approval to spend money on a service.

Managing public money

As well as following this guidance, you must follow the rules on managing public money.

Last update:

Added native and hybrid apps to projects that won't usually be approved

  1. Guidance first published