Online social care support needs improvements

New survey shows half of councils do a good job with website information, but there are significant problems around findability in Google searches

Half of local authorities are providing good online support for social care, but there are problems around findability in Google searches, according to the latest survey report by the Better Connected programme of public sector IT association Socitm.

Young hand holding old handIt carried out the surveys – covering 206 councils in total – to assess the impact of the Care Act on council’s online services, focusing on two areas: finding local care services, and the assessment by councils of care needs for elderly people. The topics and question sets were developed with the older people’s charity Independent Age.

Both revealed that about 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.

But Socitm said that most people begin the process with an internet search and that there are concerns around how easy it is to find the services through Google.

Higher failure rate

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%.

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

Socitm said that social care departments have invested significantly in third party websites in the past three years, and it appears that in many cases too little attention has been paid to search engine optimisation. Searches often returned web pages of varying relevance or linked to PDFs, which are effectively dead ends.

Where Google did land reviewers on introductory pages about assessment, these were rarely clear enough in providing a gateway to council support and services. Reviewers looked for each step of the journey, from initial contact with the council to the final result, to be provided as an overview and then mapped out as a logical sequence of web pages. They also expected services to be easily found via the council’s own search function or A-Z, or by navigating from within the website.

While the “find local services” survey performed better in Google, use of third party sites to present social care information and services often created a poor user experience. Among the failings were duplication of content on two sites, the lack of a deep link between an issue discussed on a council site and relevant pages of the third party site, and jarring differences in the presentation and style of content.

Cause of concern

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."