Government Web sites not a hit with the public

The U.K. government is keen for people to use the internet to find out about its services and to this end plans to get all services online by 2005. But if figures from a recent poll are to be believed they have a long way to go to persuade most of us that the internet is the place to look.

The survey, which was carried out by ICM on behalf of Hedra technology consultants. It found that just 14 per cent of respondents would choose to deal with a public body online, with the majority — 41 per cent-preferring to see someone in person and 29 per cent opting to pick up the phone.

This is bad news for organisations like Cima (the Criminal Injuries Compensation Authority), which is in the process of redesigning its website to encourage more people to work out claims online before submitting them in order to cut down on the number of unsuccessful final applications.

Just getting people to visit websites is an uphill battle as ICM found that over half of those surveyed (53 per cent) had never looked at a government website.

It seems that it isn’t security worries that puts people off-just 34 per cent said they wouldn’t use such services online because they felt they were insecure. Instead poor, unintuitive design is the culprit for 53 per cent who said they would visit government websites only if they were well laid out and easy to use. Meanwhile, a third of respondents (31 per cent) claimed a site’s looks didn’t matter to them.

Cost is the overwhelming factor that would have 81 per cent of respondents streaming on to government websites. This huge majority said they would use the internet more if it saved them money.

Perhaps the government needs to tot up the cost of phone calls, transport and work time lost when people telephone its departments or turn up in person, and compare those to the cost of using a website. If it can prove it’s cheaper to use websites than rely on traditional contact methods, it could be on to a winner.