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It's all about trust - auditing local government domains

Posted by: , Posted on: - Categories: GDS team, GOV.UK

We know that owning a domain address tells users that we can be trusted, and we’re proud of this message - it is an important part of building trust and reducing the potential for people to use misleading websites as part of phishing and scamming activity.

It's all about trust - auditing local government domains

As part of our work we carry out audits of different domain groups. I completed an audit of all central government domains a while ago, and recently started the process again.

This time, I’m looking at the 1900 or so domains belonging to local authorities, the devolved governments, and locally related services, e.g. fire services, National Park Authorities etc.

You can see the entire list of around 4000 domains here (go on, I dare you to take a look).

An audit of local authority sites had never been carried out before, and it’s a big job involving basic checks of each site. Working with The Naming and Approvals Committees (NAC), the goal is to advise domain owners if their website appears to breach any of our current guidance by being inaccessible, nonfunctional or leading to a non government domain, e.g. a .com .org etc.

Its important to help make owners aware where their websites don’t meet the needs of Local government: naming and registering websites.

Over the coming months the aim is to get in touch with domain owners where possible breaches of the standards are identified, and get these corrected.

We are also doing this to influence the approach to defensive registration including dealing with stockpiled domains.  We want to instil trust that is reserved for use by the public sector (which is managed by government and the NAC).

We are making sure we know why a domain is being approved and what it will be used for - we will also never allow a non-public sector organisation to register with our domain. As part of this and if an authority has a number of domains that are not all in use, we may ask if they would mind handing them back for retirement.

The benefits to us are the estate is neat, and tidy, and fully understood. The benefits to the local authority are financial as they will save on the maintenance charge of £40 + VAT every 2 years for each retired site. The benefit to the user is the continued reassurance that GOV.UK is the best place to find government services and information online.

In the meantime, here is some advice for local government domain owners:

For those with little technical experience when it comes to websites, we appreciate that managing one can sometimes be a little daunting, so the best things to do are:

  • check every so often that your website looks like it is supposed to look
  • familiarise yourself with the Local government: naming and registering websites guidelines
  • if you are concerned that you may be breaching the standards, just get in touch with NAC via the registrar JANET and we’ll be happy to assist
  • consider using an analytics tool like Google’s to check how many views your website gets, so you can measure its success and whether it needs an update or refresh
  • finally, you might find Government Digital Service’s website style guide helpful. It can be found on GOV.UK at

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  1. Comment by Ted Vidler posted on

    I am distressed at the demise of

    That was the only efficient Postcode-to-postcode journey planner I knew
    offers - but that doesnt work. e.g. from SE11 6UN to PO17 6LL it fails to find ANY route and refuses to give ANY information.

    I have failed to find any public transport alternative.

    I recall someone in (sadly I cant trace the email) promissing a replacement, better planner.

    Please, where is it?

    Please *DO* forward this to the *Decision Maker*, whomever that may be

    Ted Vidler

  2. Comment by S Walsh posted on

    Is it your job to pick up the local sites that have been hit by comment spam or malicious redirects? Googling for the usual pharmaceutical spam keyword* on the GOV.UK domain suggests Tameside and Mumbles have significant problems.

    *Excuse the circumlocution; I don't want to trigger filters – it starts with V

    • Replies to S Walsh>

      Comment by Carrie Barclay posted on

      You can report something wrong with a page by clicking the "website feedback" or "is there something wrong with this page" on GOV.UK pages. This will then create a report that will get to the right team to look into any potential issues. Thanks!

      • Replies to Carrie Barclay>

        Comment by Trevor Dayneswood posted on

        Your comment implies that there should be a link for ' "website feedback" or "is there something wrong with this page" ' on THIS page. But I can't find those links and there IS something wrong with this page: the link"Local government: naming and registering" in the fifth para. below the larege "Trust" logo leads to a "Page not found" error! Rather 'unfortunate' on a page entitled "It’s all about trust – auditing local government domains"!

      • Replies to Carrie Barclay>

        Comment by Trevor Dayneswood posted on

        My comment about a "Page not found" error also applies to the link to "Local government: naming and registering websites" in the second bullet point within the blue box at the end of the article above.

  3. Comment by John King posted on

    it doesnt make sense to move local authority sites to it will make it difficult to find them since all the names will be subdomains. i prefer each local authority having a short name that mimics its own name i.e for london e.t.c

  4. Comment by Stephen posted on

    I'm not sure how well, or if, it relates to this * audit, but where do Local Economic Partnerships, Combined Authorities etc fit into the grand scheme of things? E.g. the West Yorkshire Combined Authority uses, the Leeds City Region LEP uses, but the North Yorkshire LEP uses

    Also, you say central government departments and bodies have strict guidelines for campaign site domains etc, are there similar rules/guidelines for local government? With the growing emphasis on partnership working and services being commissioned to or run by/with other public bodies, charities, businesses, employee-owned mutuals etc - how can this be distilled down to an easy-to-understand internet landscape for users?

  5. Comment by Stephen Edwards posted on

    I would echo David's comments but also ask for something similar for central government domains? Also, do you have any idea of how many non * domains are in use? I'm still seeing weird and wonderful and .com addresses popping up for various campaigns etc in central and local government.

  6. Comment by David Durant posted on

    It would be very interesting to hear more about this as it continues - especially as it feeds into the discussion as to whether it's possible, or sensible, to have a single "" website for local authorities in the same manner as has done for national departmental websites.

    The list of ~4000 domains is itself also interesting. It would be great to see that page with a search function and an ability to click on each one to be taken to a page about it saying, for example, why it has an exemption from being transitioned to if it's a national organisation website.

    • Replies to David Durant>

      Comment by Evans Bissessar posted on

      There is no plan at the moment to have a single "", thats not to say that its ruled out, but rather that all efforts have been directed towards the absolutely huge task of migrating central government sites onto the single platform - GOV.UK. Even after the sites have migrated, there will still be much to do with new content, ensuring they remain up to date and relevant etc.

      Regarding the list of domains, it will remain as it for the forseeable future, but here is another blog about the Exemption criteria:, and also a section on GOV.UK which lists the sites transitioning or exempt from GOV.UK.

      The most recent quarterly report on Open central government websites ( lists all central government sites and some are, .com's or .orgs. We do not have this data for local authorities, but this is part of the reason for the audit to at least identify where a local authoritiy site is resolving to a non domain. Central Government depts and bodies are under strict guidelines where using non domains for campaigns etc are concerned, and so you should mainly be seeing legacy ones of these.