Just one in five UK citizens use government digital services

24 July 2019 Consultancy.uk 4 min. read

Barely over a fifth of citizens of the UK use online services hosted by local and national government on a regular basis. The finding comes as part of a global study, in which researchers found that the British are among the least regular users of their state’s digital offerings.

Governments across Europe are increasingly embracing digitisation in order to upgrade the quality of public services provided to companies and citizens. Similar to how marketers focus on making customer journeys as effective and enjoyable as they can, governments are looking to design services and products which place more value on the citizen journey, while ultimately making processes more time-efficient and less costly to administrate.

The potential of digital transformation for both national and local authorities was illustrated by the case of the White Horse District Council and South Oxfordshire District Council. The two institutions partnered with professional services firm Capita to digitise and enhance revenue collections, utilising methods which included a drive to promote direct debit payments for council tax, electronic billing and a new online portal to manage bills. The digital programmes have contributed towards increased collection, alongside year-on-year growth in collectable debit in the millions of pounds.

Just one in five UK citizens use government digital services

Despite this, according to the results of a multi-country survey from Accenture, almost a third of citizens in five leading digital nations still do not engage with the government digitally. According to a poll of 5,010 citizens aged 18 or older in Australia, Germany, Singapore, the UK and the US, while 61% of those who engage are satisfied with their government’s digital offering, some 31% of respondents still said they don’t use or know how to access any government digital service.

This was notably worse in the UK, where the majority of UK respondents revealed they rarely if ever utilise government resources digitally. Just 22% of British participants said they accessed government digital services several times a year, compared to 56% of Australians. At the same time, there is little appetite to change this situation, suggesting that the digital experience offered by the government is not perceived as being any less tedious or painful than engaging with authorities in person, or via traditional forms of communication.

“Citizens are increasingly used to accessing their services through digital platforms,” said Shaheen Sayed, Managing Director for Health & Public Service at Accenture. “While it is very positive to see that most citizens are actively using digital government services and they are satisfied with that experience, there is still a group who need to be connected to what’s available online. By communicating to citizens about what services they can access online and how the use of technology is benefitting them as individuals, trust in the government will grow and the gap between awareness and use will quickly close.”

37% of UK respondents said the government should make greater use of innovative AI technologies, compared to 57% in Singapore. This may also relate to trust issues between citizens and the mechanisms of government. For example, the UK Home Office has come under pressure not to pursue the use of an AI-based facial recognition database in the policing of Britain, following suggestions that it is racially biased, and can also leverage information from innocent civilians to profile them in future. This illustrates one of the many matters of concern which make it difficult for the government to foster enthusiasm for digital drives.

Singapore’s citizens were also significantly more enthusiastic about government digitalisation than their counterparts in the US. 55% of survey respondents from America do not use or do not know about any government digital services, compared with just 8% of respondents from Singapore. At the same time, more than two-thirds of respondents from Singapore said they would increase their use of government digital services if their government used AI to deliver the services online around-the-clock – compared to 48% of US respondents.