Editorial

Public now more confident accessing public services online

Sixty percent of people are more confident using digital public services than before Covid-19 – however most remain unsure of the government’s ability to handle data and provide digital public services

Posted 19 October 2021 by Christine Horton


Sixty percent of UK citizens are more confident accessing public services online than they were before COVID-19, according to new research.

A survey of 1000 UK citizens commissioned by BT and developed by government-focused technology company PUBLIC has found that a further 75 percent also say they now would feel comfortable accessing digital public services via their smartphone.

However, The Future of Digital Government: A blueprint for the future of digital public services in the UK report finds that despite the recent push towards digital services during the COVID-19 pandemic, nearly 50 percent of people – with full access to the internet – access public services online at most a few times a year.

This sits far below digital front-runners such as Denmark, Estonia, and South Korea, where individuals conduct as much as 80 percent of their interactions with government online.

The report suggests that the lack of UK public engagement with services online is due to the variable quality of these services across the public sector. Fifteen percent of people say they have had to repeat using digital public services because they were unable to resolve their issues after a single interaction, expressing frustration at confusing interfaces and technical issues.

It also finds that, despite a positive view of many services built by central government departments during the pandemic, more than a third (33 percent) have still experienced public services that are nominally ‘digitised’, but which require them to submit a paper form, make a phone call or visit a location in-person.

As a result, the general public is very supportive (73 percent) of the introduction of a government digital identity solution that can mean less offline steps and faster and more joined-up services.

Greater transparency over data use needed

The report also shows that although 43 percent of people are now more confident in the government’s ability to handle citizen data than they were before Covid-19, most remain unsure or less confident in government’s ability to handle data and provide digital public services.

Despite this, since Covid-19, people are more willing to share their data with government to improve public services, as long as it is used transparently and appropriately. Transparency remains a key concern for the general public, with most (80 percent) stating that they would feel more comfortable using public services if there was greater transparency around the use of their data and of complex technologies used in the public sector.

“This report highlights that people’s confidence in using digital public services has grown substantially since the COVID-19 pandemic, but we can’t afford to stall on the progress made. For the UK to gain its position as a truly world-leading digital government, it must supercharge its efforts to provide citizens with a seamless digital experience,” said Commenting on the findings, Rob Shuter, CEO, BT’s Enterprise unit.

“This starts with ensuring government bodies have the strongest connectivity, followed by a suite of integrated digital services that are easy to use, reliable, secure and ultimately provide a better quality of outcome for everyone.”