New public sector website accessibility regulations

30 September 2019
Photo of someone's hands typing on a laptop keyboard

RNIB’s Senior Legal Policy Officer Samantha Fothergill explains new regulations mean all public sector bodies have a legal duty to make websites and apps accessible.

What are these new regulations?

From 23 September 2019, new regulations have come into force which means that every new public sector website will need to meet certain accessibility standards and publish a statement saying they have been met. Existing websites will have until 2020 to comply. All apps will have until 2021 to comply.

The aim of the regulations is to ensure public sector websites and mobile apps are accessible to all users, especially those with disabilities.

The new regulations are called ‘The Public Sector Bodies (Websites and Mobile Applications) (No.2) Accessibility Regulations 2018’. They are now law in the UK and implement the EU Directive on the accessibility of public sector websites and mobile applications.

Why are they needed?

Many websites aren’t accessible. For people who use assistive technology like a screen reader or screen magnifier, the frustration of not being able to use or navigate a website is all too common.

A survey of local authority websites in 2017 by Better Connected, found that only 60 percent of UK Council websites were accessible to people with disabilities. With the increasing shift of many public services to online platforms, it’s essential that these websites are accessible to all.

Equality legislation (the Equality Act 2010 and the Disability Discrimination Act 1995) already require websites to be accessible. Despite that, many websites remain inaccessible.

What does RNIB think about these new regulations?

We hope that the new regulations will finally make local authorities and other public services sit up and address the needs of disabled people using their websites. They will also be required publish an accessibility statement that explains how accessible the website is, and who to contact if a user experiences difficulty.

Public sector websites can avoid complying with the regulations if doing so would represent a “disproportionate burden”, but they would need to give good reasons why that would be the case.

There are some exemptions to the regulations, for example for schools and public broadcaster websites, or when a certain type of content is being used, like live media or maps. But even here, it is likely that the Equality Act will still apply. This means that website providers will need to make ‘reasonable adjustments’, that’s taking reasonable steps, to make their websites and content accessible.

When it comes to mobile apps, public sector providers are also covered by the new accessibility regulations. But providers have an additional year, until September 2021 to comply. And once again, apps are already covered by the Equality Act.

What can you do if you come across an inaccessible website?

If you come across a public sector website (or any other website) which is not accessible, then the first step is to contact the website provider.

Often a website will have an accessibility help page with the relevant contact details, and the link for this is often found at the bottom of the page.  If there is no accessibility page, there will often be a “contact us” section, or an email address to the customer services team. If you use social media, that can be another way to raise the issue, if you are able to contact the website provider on Twitter for example.

Your initial complaint should include the following details:

  • Give as much detail as possible about the problem you have encountered, including details of the webpage where it occurred.

  • Include what type of computer or mobile device you are using, and the assistive technology software you use.

  • Mention the Equality Act and the public sector website regulations, which are the new regulations.

  • Ask the provider to make the necessary changes to their website, and to provide a reasonable timescale for doing so.

This way the problem will have been brought to the attention of the provider, and they’ll have been reminded of their responsibilities. If they resolve the issue then that’s great. But if not, it shows you’ve given them the opportunity to make the changes, and any response you get from the provider, can be helpful to refer to if you take your complaint further.

If you’ve done that, please do get in touch with our RNIB Sight Loss Advice Service to let us know. They will be able to assist you with the next stage of your complaint, and it helps us understand what problems you are experiencing with website accessibility, and how widespread these problems are.