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How to access old versions of Home Office guidance and identify any changes

Immigration law is constantly changing and the Home Office updates its guidance documents accordingly. Sometimes you will need to look at an older version of the guidance that applied at a certain time but it is no longer on GOV.UK as it has been replaced with the new version.

When new guidance is published, important changes are often not mentioned in the “Changes since last version” section, so it is useful to be able to check for yourself what has actually been changed as opposed to what the Home Office wants you to know has been changed. Below we look at how to do both of these things.

Using the archives to access old guidance

The first URL you will need is this one: https://webarchive.nationalarchives.gov.uk/ukgwa/*/

Then you need to go to the page where the guidance sits. For the purposes of this example, let’s look at the country policy information notes on Rwanda, specifically at “Country Information Note: Rwanda, general human rights,Version 3.0 April 2024”. The URL for that page is this: https://www.gov.uk/government/publications/rwanda-country-policy-and-information-notes

Next, you combine the two, so that you get this: https://webarchive.nationalarchives.gov.uk/ukgwa/*/https://www.gov.uk/government/publications/rwanda-country-policy-and-information-notes

That link will take you to a page that looks like this:

Look at the date on the current version of the guidance. The publication date does not appear in the actual guidance document in this case, so instead we can look on the main page, in the updates sections towards the bottom and see that it was updated on 29 April 2024:

Now we know the date the current version of the guidance was published, in order to access the previous version we just need to choose a date before that on the archive page:

The dates reflect when an archived version of the page was captured, they do not mean that the page was changed on each of these dates.

I chose 6 March as the closest available date before the guidance was changed. If you choose too early a date, you may end up with an earlier version of the guidance than you are looking for, for example version 1 instead of version 2.

Next you will be in the archived page, which looks like this:

When I click on the “Country Information Note: Rwanda, general human rights” link on that archived page it is marked as archived as of 11 December 2023 and all of the pages are watermarked with “Archived”. I am concerned this may affect the pdf comparison and so I go and get a clean version from before that date.

I chose the December 8 2023 option and this has a clean version of the guidance. I also noticed that there does not appear to an archived version 2, so we will instead compare versions 1 and 3.

The next step is to download the archived pdf guidance and the pdf of the current guidance. Now you are ready to run them through a pdf comparison tool.

Using a pdf comparison tool to identify changes to a new version of the guidance

I use Draftable for this, which is very user friendly and has always worked well. The page looks like this:

All you need to do is drag and drop the relevant versions of the guidance into their respective boxes and click on the compare button. Then you get your comparison. Changes are highlighted in red on the left and blue on the right, moved text is light green.

This is quite an extreme example given the number of changes that have happened, here is another example of a comparison with fewer changes. This is the Safety of Rwanda guidance, a comparison between versions 1 and 2.

And that’s it! I hope people find this useful, and if while using this process you ever discover any concerning changes that you think I may have missed and the rest of the sector should know about them then please do get in touch.

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Sonia Lenegan

Sonia Lenegan is an experienced immigration, asylum and public law solicitor. She has been practising for over ten years and was previously legal director at the Immigration Law Practitioners' Association and legal and policy director at Rainbow Migration. Sonia is the Editor of Free Movement.

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