How do I use GOV.UK?

Updated on 18 September 2020

Getting help

The government is keen that people use the GOV.UK website for all of their searches relating to tax and benefits.

Image of the GOV.UK website home page from May 2020

What information will I find on GOV.UK?

GOV.UK is the website to use to find government services and information.

Through GOV.UK, government departments, including HMRC, have merged all their information to a central point.

The information on GOV.UK has replaced nearly all tax information on the old HMRC website. The material on GOV.UK is intended to be simple and clear and therefore it may not provide the same detailed information that the HMRC site previously provided.

Although GOV.UK works closely with every government department on the content, you need to be careful, because sometimes the information or guidance it gives is over-simplified or inaccurate.

One example is with the marriage allowance. One condition to be satisfied in order to claim the marriage allowance is that neither member of the couple pays tax at a rate higher than the basic rate.

However, the narrative on the GOV.UK application page reads: ‘To benefit as a couple, you need to earn less than your partner and have an income of £12,500 or less.’

This is incorrect, and is no doubt stopping eligible people from making claims that could improve their financial position, for example where one spouse’s income is mainly made up of dividends and the basic rate of tax is 7.5% rather than 20%.

As such, whilst it has to be recognised that no amount of guidance can be a substitute for individual advice, if you have an unusual or complex situation, you may wish to seek to confirm what you have understood from GOV.UK, with another source.

LITRG produce a range of information and guidance on tax issues – you can find this in the tax guides section.

You can also find all of the HMRC Manuals on GOV.UK. The Manuals contain HMRC’s interpretation of the law and an insight as to how certain matters are dealt with.

How do I search on GOV.UK?

As GOV.UK is the website for all government services, there is a lot of information on it – hopefully the tax information you need will be clearly signposted from the HMRC part of GOV.UK but if not, there is a search facility which may help you find the information you are looking for. Try to be as specific as you can, for example if you know the tax refund form you need is called ‘P87’, search for the form number, rather than ‘tax refunds’. To narrow down the results, you can filter them by government organisation.

When using GOV.UK, you should always keep a copy of information on which you might later need to rely, by printing or saving a copy of the webpage or taking a screenshot. We explain more in our news piece: Use government advice wisely. Always try to use GOV.UK to search for government information or services rather than use a search engine. This is because results from generic search engines will often bring up unofficial as well as official websites. This can include copycat websites that charge for services that the government offers for free.

If you are disabled, information about the accessibility of HMRC’s documents can be found on GOV.UK. Also on GOV.UK is information more generally about accessibility including commentary about screen readers and speech recognition systems.

How can I locate old information from GOV.UK that has since been updated?

As we explain in our news piece: Has GOV.UK gone wrong for you?, there can be a particular issue with GOV.UK as it is being updated and rewritten all the time. But if you saw something before and it’s not there now, do not panic – you can track down old GOV.UK pages should you need to and here we tell you how.

Old content on GOV.UK is kept as a public record for permanent preservation in the UK Government Web Archive (UKGWA). It regularly takes copies (snap shots) of whole websites including GOV.UK, meaning that people can see how they change over time – and helpfully locate information no longer available on the live website. Snapshots of GOV.UK going back to 2012 can be found here (click on a date to see the web content that was captured on it.) 

You can often use and browse archived websites as you would a live website. However, due to technical limitations in the software that captures website content, some functionality is not available in archived versions of sites. For example, the original GOV.UK built-in search facility will not work, which may hinder you finding the old page that you want. But if you know roughly where the information that you viewed previously was located, you should be able to navigate a path to the page that you are looking for from the home page. (So, for example, if you wanted to see the original instructions for claiming the marriage allowance, you might search in early April 2015 because the allowance first became available from 6 April 2015. Clicking on the archived content for 18 April 2015 shows some categories to look in. Choosing ‘Money and tax’ gives a further menu from which marriage allowance can be found.)

If you hit a dead end using this method, there is also the UKGWA full text search service which searches the text of webpages lodged in its archive.  You can search using key words, or you can perform narrower searches. For example, you can exclude certain terms from search results or restrict the search so that only results from archived versions of a particular website are displayed. If you want to do this for GOV.UK, where it says 'only within this website’ type ‘www.gov.uk’ in the box.

Because of the size of the archive and because the archive often holds multiple versions of web pages harvested over different dates, such searches can produce a lot of results. You can find the UKGWA’s in-depth guide for searching the web archive here, which may help you limit the amount of ‘noise’ you get and locate the content.

Ideally though, as mentioned earlier, the best thing you can do when using GOV.UK is always to keep a copy of information on which you might later need to rely, by printing or saving a copy of the webpage or taking a screenshot. However, we recognize that this isn’t always going to happen in which case, the web archive facility described here becomes a useful fall back.

What about specific websites for Wales, Scotland and Northern Ireland?

GOV.UK is the main place you will find information posted from HMRC.

If you live in Scotland, you may also find the Scottish Government’s website helpful.

If you live in Northern Ireland, you may find NI direct helpful.

If you live in Wales, you may find the Welsh Government’s website helpful.

As with GOV.UK, if you use any of these websites as a source of information, we recommend that you print out a copy of the relevant webpage and keep it somewhere safe, in case of a later dispute.