PSBAR Exemptions

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The Public Sector Bodies (Websites and Mobile Applications) (No.2) Accessibility Regulations 2018 are a complex set of regulations which apply to a wide variety of organisations and content types. When it comes to defining whether something is “in scope” or “out of scope” of the regulations, this can be a complex task and involves many grey areas. Application of the regulations should always be checked on a case-by-case basis.

Some content may be exempted by different interpretations of the regulations, but there are also several specific exemptions listed within the regulations. This guide will take you through those listed exemptions and how you may need to list them in your own documentation.

The specific listed exemptions tend to be broken down into two categories; organisation exemptions and content exemptions.

Organisation exemptions:

Content exemptions:

The government digital service also provides a summary list of the exemptions in their Understanding accessibility requirements for public sector bodies guidance.


Active Administrative Functions

Across many of the exemptions, the terms “active administrative functions” or “essential online administrative functions” are used. But what is an active administrative function?

The regulations do not specifically give a definition but through significant discussion with many public sector bodies across different backgrounds, we believe our closest definition is:

Active/Essential online administrative functions include any interactive task that a user would be expected to complete as part of a work, study, or personal documentation (financial, data, legal, licensing) related process. Examples include online job application forms, completing recruitment onboarding documentation, completing a visa application, taxi licensing forms, planning applications, taxes or bills processes, and school consent forms. This does not cover documents which could be considered ‘for information only’ apart from where that information is necessary for the completion of active administrative functions.

Substantial Revision

For some content such as that of internal facing systems that were published pre-September 2019, they are exempt until the service undergo a “substantial revision”.

The regulations do not specifically give a definition but through significant discussion with many public sector bodies across different backgrounds, we believe our closest definition is:

A system or content could be said to have undergone a substantial revision if it has passed a point of opportunity in which accessibility changes could have been made to that system or content.

A point of opportunity to make accessibility changes could be any of the following list or other occasions:

  • Reprocurement
  • Contract renegotiations
  • New versions or significant updates to document content (such as yearly publications)
  • System-wide updates to branding or user interfaces
  • System-wide redevelopments of functionality (small cosmetic changes irregularly would not be sufficient)

For many significantly large systems or groups of content, individual user journeys or documents may be developed one at a time rather than as wholesale redevelopments. At what point do small but regular changes become a substantial revision?

We believe that a regularly updated system has been substantially revised when it meets one or more of the following criteria:

  • When more than 50% of total documents were published after 23rd September 2019
  • More than 50% of total views / downloads of all documents were of documents published after 23rd September 2019
  • When more than 50% of user journeys or pages on the site were last updated after 23rd September 2019
  • When more than 50% of views of all user journeys or pages were of content published after 23rd September 2019

Overriding exemptions

Some exemptions have ambiguous wording and may override other descriptions within the regulations.

For example when discussing online maps, we believe that the exemption for maps overrides definitions of content formats. So, any map, regardless of whether it is a PDF, image on a web page or other format, is still a map and therefore exempt.

Other areas where this order of operations applies is content of intranets and extranets (Reg 4, Clause 2g) which affects all content regardless of format, and archived content (Reg 4, Clause 2h) which overrides any format debate in favour of a time-based definition of “archives”.

Organisation exemptions

Public sector broadcasters

“Public service broadcasters and their subsidiaries, and of other bodies or their subsidiaries fulfilling a public service broadcasting remit.”

Public service broadcasters get a blanket exemption. This includes organisations like the BBC who will not come in scope of these regulations but who still do a lot of work to improve the accessibility of their content. Indeed, the BBC promotes many accessibility features such as iPlayer including many pieces of content which have audio descriptions.

Public service broadcasters are still in scope of the Equality Act 2010 and would still be expected to make things accessible through reasonable adjustments.

Non-government organisations

“Non-governmental organisations, unless they provide services that-

  • Are essential to the public; or
  • Specifically address the needs of, or are meant for, persons with disabilities.”

Firstly, lets address what a non-governmental organisation is. Non-governmental organisations (NGOs) refers to a specific type of organisation that include many non-profit or well known charity organisations such as Oxfam, Save the Children and Amnesty International.

All NGO organisations have a blanket exemption unless they provide services that are essential to the public, or specifically for disabled users. The next question then, is what constitutes essential for the public?

The regulations do not specifically give a definition but we believe a good place to start is to look back to the first lockdown of the Covid-19 pandemic. The UK Government released a list of “essential services to the public” which includes a wide range of services including many aspects of government, healthcare, supermarkets and the food supply chain, utilities, car mechanics / bike repair shops and many other areas.

If such a list of “essential services” was produced for a worldwide health crisis, we feel this is a strong contender for a sensible list at all times (not just in an emergency) and demonstrates many industries that while not currently covered by these regulations should be focussed for accessibility improvements if they are so “essential”.

If you work for an organisation that could be classified as an NGO, we would suggest comparing the services you provide to whether you were considered “essential services” or “key workers” during the pandemic. If so, a case could be made that you should consider alignment with the regulation requirements.

Schools or nurseries

“Schools or nurseries, except for the content of their websites or mobile applications relating to essential online administrative functions.”

When looking at the schools and nurseries exemption, it is important to think about the user journey as a whole for accessing essential online administrative functions. There will be the content itself, which may be an online form, contact routes or other important content for staff or parents to access, but consideration must also be given to how a disabled user would get to that content.

In our view, to deliver accessible administrative functions, not only must the content itself be accessible, but so must the routes by which a user reaches that content. This should include all site navigation methods, including main and footer navigation, search options and sitemaps. These features are often deeply linked with website templates.

While some may initially look at this exemption and consider that schools and nurseries are almost complete exempt apart from some content, we feel that schools and nurseries are almost completely in scope apart from “for information” or “non-administrative content” as to deliver accessible administrative content, the templates and navigation routes must be accessible, and so must any administrative content.

Content exemptions

Pre-regulation Office file formats

“Office file formats published before 23rd September 2018, unless such content is needed for active administrative processes relating to the tasks performed by the public sector body.”

Office file formats refers to any “document” format you may be familiar with such as all Microsoft Office formats e.g. Word, PowerPoint, Excel as well as things like PDFs and EPUBs.

Many websites contain large numbers of documents which can date back many years and are sometimes required for record keeping purposes in line with retention periods.

Documents which were created pre regulations may not need to be made accessible unless part of an active administrative process (which is described in the ‘Definitions’ section above), but you will still have a responsibility to provide accessible alternatives for these documents on request. You should aim to ensure that the route for requesting alternative formats is clear within your accessibility statement and also present on other areas of the website where there are large concentrations of documents such as at the top of “resource” pages which may contain many document download links.

When considering document exemptions, think carefully about what documents may be part of administrative processes, what may be produced by 3rd parties, and what may be considered archived content as these will all affect whether individual documents are in scope or out of scope of the regulations.

Pre-recorded time-based media

“Pre-recorded time-based media published before 23rd September 2020.”

Time-based media, normally refers to things like audio streams or video content. There are several time-based media success criteria in the Web Content Accessibility Guidelines.

This regulation specifically exempts older audio and video content that was produced before the end of the grace period on 23rd September 2020. If you have older video content on a website, you can focus on improving new content to meet regulation requirements. Consider that older content is still subject to reasonable adjustments requests under the Equality Act 2010.

If you are publishing audio or video content now (in scope), you will need to ensure that the content is accompanied by the appropriate combination of captions, transcripts, and audio-descriptions.

Remember! The monitoring body believes that only 100% accurate captions are regulation compliant.

Live time-based media

Live time-based media is quite a straight forward exemption. In the Web Content Accessibility Guidelines, there is a success criteria 1.2.4 Captions (Live) (AA) which would require captions to be provided for all live audio content in synchronised media.

This means that for any live audio podcast, or live video stream such as events broadcast over Teams or Zoom, normally it would be expected that accurate captions would be provided. The regulations make specific exemption for this, however if you plan to later publish recordings of previously-live content, you will have to ensure they have captions, transcripts, and/or audio descriptions.

Remember! The monitoring body believes that only 100% accurate captions are regulation compliant.

Additionally, there are many ways to add live auto-generated captions to sessions. Teams has settings for users to turn on captions and live transcription at the user end, presenters can turn on captions through PowerPoint as they are presenting, and settings can also be accessed in Zoom.

Online maps

“Online maps and mapping services, as long as essential information is provided in an accessible digital manner for maps intended for navigational use.”

What is a map?

The definition of a map is:

“a diagrammatic representation of an area of land or sea showing physical features, cities, roads, etc.”

This definition encompasses all variety of spatial representations including floorplans, city maps, areas of land, and any others. Specifically though, this should be a representation of space and does not cover things like organisation structure charts or flow diagrams which could be said to map hierarchies or processes. Maps are of physical/geographical space.

What makes a map online?

This question relates to what format the map is delivered in and if this affects whether a map is in scope. ie. Is there a regulation difference in the definition of online map or mapping service if the map is published within a PDF document available to download from the website, or to the website direct as part of a HTML webpage?

We interpret what format the final production takes should not change the definition of what a map is in this context. Regardless of format the map is being delivered to provide information on a representation of a space. The map will still be a visual representation that will never have alt text that can accurately represent the context the map provides to a sighted user.

So, whether a map is an interactive Google Map, a PDF or other document format, or simply an image on a web page, an online map is still a map regardless of format and is being made available to a user through a browser-based system, making it online.

Map examples

Example 1 – A map showing visitors how to navigate a zoo

A map in any form intended to help users navigate around a space or navigate to a location should have clear alternatives. This could be things such as:

Example 2 – A map in a planning application

A map in any form demonstrating proposed planning information would be exempt under the regulations. While the content is exempt and there is no regulation instruction to provide an accessible alternative. Reasonable adjustments would still be required under the Equality Act 2010.

Many planning departments already contain the processes to support this kind of accessible alternative. When delivering maps which are not accessible it is our advice to clearly signpost how users can get accessible alternatives on request. This could be as simple as providing a contact address for the planning team who can arrange a time to call or meet with the user to answer any and all questions related to the map.

Third-party content

“Third-party content that is neither funded nor developed by, nor under the control of, the public sector body.”

Third party content comes in all shapes and sizes. This could be documents which you are required to publish on your website in a certain template by law, comments from members of the public on ‘forum’ areas, or a wide range of other content.

When considering whether third-party produced content is in scope or out of scope of the regulations we consider 5 key questions to understand whether as a public sector body you would have had any opportunity to affect the level of accessibility of that third-party content.

Because the topic of third-party content is so broad, we have a separate guide further explaining 3rd party content exemptions and how you can carefully consider your responsibilities.

3rd party content responsibilities guide.

Heritage items

“Reproductions of items in heritage collections that cannot be made fully accessible because of either-

  • The incompatibility of the accessibility requirements with either the preservation of the item concerned or the authenticity of the reproduction; or
  • The unavailability of automated and cost-efficient solutions that would easily extract the text of manuscripts or other items in heritage collections and transform it into content compatible with the accessibility requirements.”

The heritage exemption is included out of practicality and safety for historic artefacts. Many historic texts which could be digitised and made accessible would require significant manual labour to complete because manipulating and correctly reading historical texts are practically challenging for automated tools. Such tasks also present financial challenges and risk of damage to the texts.

While the regulations give an exemption for this kind of content, historical institutions such as the British Museum have previously undergone projects to improve accessibility for users with disabilities including creating tactile representations of many exhibits to support blind users.

Intranet and Extranet content

“Content of extranets and intranets published before 23rd September 2019, until such websites undergo a substantial revision.

Extranets and intranets” means a website that is only available for a closed group of people and not to the general public”

A common misconception of the regulations is that it only applies to ‘public facing’ websites and content. This is not true. The regulations apply to all websites, both internal facing and public facing.

Intranets and Extranets have a slightly different meaning under the regulations.

When the regulations refer to an intranet, they are referring to ANY browser-based system intended for staff use, not just the company Intranet system where HR policies and company news are shared.

When the regulations refer to an extranet, they are referring to ANY browser-based system intended for use by a closed group that may contain both internal staff and outside users. For example, university web services made available to students. Student facing content is not available to all members of the public, but it is also a much larger group than just staff that have a contract of employment with the organisation.

Older intranet and extranet systems published before the end of the 2019 grace period do not have to meet regulation requirements unless they have received a substantial revision. We have defined what we think ‘substantial revision’ means in the ‘Definitions’ section earlier in this guide.

New intranet and extranet systems published after the 23rd September 2019 have to fully comply with the regulations.

Archived content

“Content of websites and mobile applications qualifying as archives.

Archives” means a website or mobile application which—

  • only contains content that is not needed for active administrative processes; and
  • is not updated or edited after 23rd September 2019”

Archived content should not just mean “old content”. We have a responsibility to keep our websites clean and remove older content when no longer relevant. We consider archive content to be, older content which is being kept unchanged for a specific purpose such as historical records, academic paper libraries or other “frozen” content which can date back decades.

The important things to consider when thinking about archives are:

Where to list exemptions

Once you have selected the exemptions relevant to your content or system, you will need to record what exempted elements you have in your accessibility statement. There is a section within the regulation template for accessibility statements called “Content that’s not within the scope of the accessibility regulations”. In this section you will list only the specific exemptions that are relevant to that particular system or content.

You can find out more about how to correctly record exemptions in our How to write an accessibility statement guide.

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