Corporate Web Standards

Portable Document Format - PDF

  • PDF must never be used instead of HTML web pages
  • Large documents and publications can be made available in PDF but must have a suitable summary page with details of how to access this information by other methods.

The use of Portable Document Format (PDF) is welcome where the PDF document provides an adjunct, or an additional feature, for standard HTML web pages.

Large documents for example Council policies, reports, plans, long publications etc can be provided in PDF when a summary web page is provided.  The summary page must provide all the main points of the PDF document you are linking to but does not have to be a verbatim copy.  When providing documents in this way you must also provide other ways to access the document -  the PDF download, a telephone number to contact for large print version, audio tape etc. as detailed in the corporate guidance Access for all.

PDF is a file format that preserves the fonts, formatting, colours, and graphics of a source document, regardless of the application and platform used to create it. You can think of it as an electronic photocopy. Users need the Adobe Acrobat Reader to view a PDF document.

Although there are advantages with PDF (the ability to print out faithful copies of paper documents for reading off-line; graphic design tools are able to output PDF), it also has many disadvantages. Major disadvantages are:

  • PDF can be difficult to read. The text is small and although you can zoom in on it, it is then difficult to scroll from one side of the page to the other.
  • A PDF document is a standalone entity - extra work has to be done to link it to other pages on the site. It is not possible for other pages on the site to link to specific pages of the PDF document.
  • PDF pages would not have the standard header and footer, so would not have links to contact information, A-Z listing, the feedback button etc.
  • There are accessibility issues, for example many (but not all) internet browsers for people with visual or cognitive disorders would not be able to cope with PDF.
  • A PDF document takes time to download - it is not instantly accessible like ordinary web pages.

If think you have an appropriate reason to use PDF without an HTML alternative this must be approved by the Corporate Webmaster before your pages are live.

Influences on this standard

Guidelines for UK Government websites

Central Office Information guidelines - Delivering inclusive websites

"The presentation of lengthy non-HTML documents on the Web should generally be avoided in favour of web pages"

"The portable document format (PDF) can be accessible if authors follow established best practices to include appropriate structure and equivalents for users with disabilities".

Disability Discrimination Act

"The Disability Discrimination Act requires public bodies to promote equality of opportunity for disabled people"

Corporate guidance

Access for all
"In Hampshire we have many residents with different needs so we need to be able to communicate with all members of the public"


W3C WAI Guideline 1
"Provide a text equivalent for every non-text element...this includes images, graphical representations of text, stand-alone audio files, audio tracks of video and video"