Better connected: Advice to Citizens, a report published today by the Society of IT Management (Socitm) and charity, Citizens Advice examined whether information on the web sites could help with the problems that are most commonly reported to Citizens Advice Bureaux across the UK.
Websites that came under scrutiny included those run by UKOnline, the Department of Trade and Industry, NHS Direct and the Department for Work and Pensions.
Some 16 local authority websites were also checked for how well they demonstrated community leadership and joined up government by directing users to relevant central government sites.
Researchers tested responses to likely questions over benefits, housing, health, debt, legal proceedings and consumer complaints.
‘The performance of UKOnline as a signpost to e-government services is disappointing,’ the report concluded.
Martin Greenwood, programme manager for Socitm Insight, said that UKOnline ‘didn’t provide the links to the sort of government sites that would have the information needed’.
But the report was not all doom and gloom: ‘We did pick up on good practice,’ he said.
‘Energywatch.org.uk dealt effectively with questions over consumer goods and services, and the City of Manchester has an effective website. But there are major deficiencies on sites that should help citizens with information that they are likely to need.
‘For example, there is a lack of advice on consumer debt on the Financial Services Authority website.’
Testers also found that sites incorporating internet search engines such as Google often failed to appropriately direct users to information wheneveryday language was used in their search terms.
The ability to access claim forms online is a key aspect of the usefulness and usability of government websites, the report said, ‘but the user experiencediffers widely with some being easy to download and others unnecessarily difficult’.
David Harker, chief executive of Citizens Advice, said in a statement: ‘E-services have the potential to transform service delivery for the better.
‘It is therefore vitally important that public services think carefully about how they design services, and how they provide information through the internet.’
The Office of the e-Envoy told VNU News Centre: ‘The government is committed to building online services around the needs of the customer and regularly seeks feedback from stakeholders on how best to do this.
‘Although individual departments are responsible for their own websites, inJuly this year the Office of the e-Envoy launched a design framework toprovide government web managers with specific guidance on how to maximisewebsite usability.’
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