Online social care support – the Socitm view

Improvement, but also poor findability of council social care services from Google searches – the place where the vast majority of Internet users begin when they go online, warns the group

Posted 18 May 2017 by

One in two of councils are doing “a good job with website information” for social care – but there are “significant problems” in some areas.

The findings are from public sector IT leadership organisation Socitm, which has just published a snapshot of how its researchers found usability on local authority sites.

Findability in Google searches was the main issue it uncovered in its look at how 206 are coping with the impact of the Care Act on council’s online services.

The survey also looked at not just finding local care services, but the assessment by councils of care needs for elderly people, with topics and question sets co-developed by the organisation with the older people’s charity Independent Age.

So while it’s great that around 50% of councils provided a good or very good service through their websites, up from around a third during the previous rounds of surveys on social care, as most people begin the process with an Internet search and there are concerns around how easy it is to find the services through Google, that’s a definite problem.

Using the search phrase “XYZ council social care assessment for elderly person” an unusually high proportion of sites – more than 10% – were not found, when for most Better Connected surveys the percentage is lower than 3%, it reports.

Plus, high instances of “not found in Google” tend to appear where councils are using third party sites to present information about council services and if these are not well integrated with the council’s corporate (gov.uk) website.

Social care departments have invested significantly in third party websites in the past three years, but it appears that in many cases too little attention has been paid to search engine optimisation, says the group.

Searches often returned web pages of varying relevance or linked to PDFs, which are effectively dead ends, for example, while where Google did land reviewers on introductory pages about assessment, these were rarely clear enough in providing a gateway to council support and services.

Andrew Kaye, head of policy and campaigns at Independent Age, said: “It is concerning that half of council websites do not have easy-to-access information on care assessments or local care services.

“Decisions about what care services to access can be difficult for older people and their families, particularly when they have to be made quickly or in difficult circumstances, for example following a stay in hospital.

“It is therefore imperative that relevant, trusted information from local authorities is straightforward to find. Many older people and their families go into the process of finding the right care with no prior knowledge of what is available or which information to trust.

“All councils need to ensure local residents can find the right information on care when they need it, but these findings suggest for too many people the process remains unnecessarily complicated.”