In September 2018, Public Sector Bodies (Websites and Mobile Applications) (No.2) Accessibility Regulations became law.
These require websites and apps created or owned by public sector organisations to meet accessibility standards so that people who use assistive technology or have additional needs can access services and information.
These regulations don’t just cover public facing websites, they also apply to documents that can be downloaded, mobile apps, intranets, and extranets so this can have wide ranging implications for large organisations such as councils, government agencies and universities.
NOTE: We use the term “Systems” to describe the type of platforms that require accessibility action.
The regulations do not include a clear definition of what is meant by “public sector” but if you receive public funding then you may be required to comply with these regulations. This includes Higher and Further Education institutions. Further explanation of organisations that come under the regulations is given in the PSBAR scope section.
The Government Digital Service has a useful guide to get you started understanding accessibility requirements for public sector bodies.
To summarise, the regulations are made up of 3 components:
- Websites, apps, and documents hosted on these systems must comply with accessibility standards. There is a timeline for when new and existing websites must comply as well as mobile apps.
- Public sector organisations must publish an accessibility statement on their websites and in apps to inform visitors about the accessibility of their websites and apps.
- The government is required to monitor that public sector websites are meeting these regulations through checking accessibility statements and checking the accessibility of a sample of sites.
The regulations are monitored and enforced by several different bodies. The Government Digital Service (Part of the UK Cabinet Office) monitors compliance of the regulations and will escalate non-compliances to the two enforcement bodies. In Great Britain the enforcement body is the Equality and Human Rights Commission, and in Northern Ireland the enforcement body is the Equalities Commission for Northern Ireland. The monitoring and enforcement process is supported by the Equality Advisory and Support Service who take complaints from individuals such as members of the public.
The way monitoring and enforcement works has several levels to it, and the Government Digital Service works with organisations to improve compliance. Find out more about the process in our PSBAR monitoring and enforcement process guide.
In the UK the regulations are tied to an international standard of best practice for delivering accessible web content. The Web Content Accessibility Guidelines (WCAG) have been running for several decades and have gone through several versions.
WCAG underpins many pieces of accessibility legislation and standards across the globe, including the American Section 508 regulations, and the European Harmonised Standard EN 301 549.
When the regulations were released in 2018, the most recent standard was WCAG 2.1 and required organisations to meet all A and AA success criteria.
On Friday 9th December 2022, Cabinet Office of the UK Government released updated guidance regarding the PSBAR regulations on the Gov.uk site which detailed an addendum to the regulations which means as WCAG is updated, the regulations will automatically change to require the latest current version of WCAG to achieve compliance.
This means that when WCAG 2.2 releases, all organisations in scope will be required to start aiming for compliance against WCAG 2.2 A and AA success criteria. GDS have explained that there will be a 12 month grace period from the date of WCAG 2.2 release before they will be expecting 2.2 compliance evidence.
Read the guide on changes in WCAG 2.2.
Part of the PSBAR requirements is the production of accessibility statements for websites in scope of the regulations.
An accessibility statement is a specific legal document that organisations must publish under PSBAR. The statement must include information about accessibility issues on a system, contact information, enforcement procedure, as well as several other legally required sections.
There is a specific template in the UK that must be followed for accessibility statements under PSBAR.
Private companies or others not covered by PSBAR may choose to write an accessibility statement. A good statement will still be similar to a PSBAR statement in terms of listing issues, contact information etc. but does not require certain pieces of legal wording.
Make Things Accessible has guides on understanding accessibility statements and how to write an accessibility statement, including a template you can download.
Disproportionate burden is a clause in PSBAR that allows organisations to avoid full compliance without penalty (not indefinitely) if the organisation proves that to achieve compliance would be a ‘disproportionate burden’.
To make a claim you must thoroughly evidence that compliance would for example:
- Incur costs greater than the organisation has funds for
- Not significantly impact disabled users
- Be wasted effort if new products are to supersede current platforms
Making a disproportionate burden claim requires a lot of supporting evidence and can only be used for niche failures to meet compliance. For example, you might be able to claim disproportionate burden for fixing one very specific failure against WCAG success criteria because to do so would require a complete website redesign for a tool which has low usage figures and there are other routes around. You would not be able to claim disproportionate burden generally, such as not having the funds or capacity to take any action towards compliance.
The subject of disproportionate burden is very nuanced and a claim should only be made as a last resort. To help you use disproportionate burden claims correctly, Make Things Accessible has guides to help you understand disproportionate burden, and how to write a disproportionate burden assessment.
PSBAR covers many different types of organisations and types of content. Because of the variety, and sometimes impossible challenges of making some content fully accessible, there are a range of exemptions to the regulations that you should be aware of.
Find out more about the exemptions and how they might apply to your systems and content in our PSBAR exemptions guide.