Document usage guide

When we can, we avoid using PDFs. Instead, we create content as web pages.

Legal requirements

From 23 September 2020 any document published on a Bracknell Forest Council website needs to be inclusive and usable for everyone.

This is a requirement based on UK legislation about public sector website and mobile app accessibility which is now in force.

Don’t think of accessibility as making a document usable for a minority of people. Think of it as making documents more useful for everyone.

What you need to do

If you manage online documents – such as PDFs and Microsoft Office documents you need to:

  • start making your documents accessible from now on
  • review and fix accessibility issues with your existing documents (excluding those published before 23 September 2018, unless they’re still essential to access services, eg a Word application form that’s still in use)

We have guidance on creating accessible source documents and PDFs available.

Problems with PDFs

We avoid PDFs because:

  • they cannot meet the range of users’ accessibility needs, for example, users cannot change colours or font size
  • they give people a poor user experience, especially on mobile
  • many browsers, tools and extensions do not work with them – they often have problems with zoom, scroll, audio, image and keyboard navigation
  • they take users away from the website, opening in a new tab, window or software – and not all users have the right software
  • they are hard to maintain and update, so users may get out of date and unreliable content
  • if users find PDFs in search results, they get them without any supporting context or material
  • search engines do not rank PDFs high in search results
  • it’s difficult to collect data on how people use PDFs, and that makes it difficult to identify problems and improve them

Publishing PDFs with an HTML version

Where there is a clear, evidenced user need for it, we will publish a PDF. But, as far as possible, we also make the same content available as HTML web pages.

The instances where we may publish a PDF (as well as a web page) are:

  • for niche audiences, where there is a clear user need for special formats
  • for downloads designed for printing
  • downloads of reports or publications designed to be published on paper
  • where there’s a legal or regulatory requirement to have a formal, signed document

If you do create a new PDF, it must meet the PDF/A standard, which is more accessible.

Follow the GOV.UK guidance on publishing accessible documents.

Managing older PDFs

Teams should make sure that:

  • they keep their content up to date
  • they replace old PDFs with an HTML page or an accessible PDF, or they delete them

Linking to PDFs

It’s better to link to HTML pages containing PDF content rather than to PDFs themselves. This makes it easier for users to find the latest information.