Half of councils fail to provide a good online service for social care support
Charity Independent Age says Socitm survey results - which show a lack of easy-to-access information on care for older people - are ‘concerning’
Half of councils don't provide easy-to-access information about social care online - Photo credit: PA
Around 50% of all councils across the UK do not provide clear information about how to find local care support or a care assessment for older people, a Socitm survey has found.
Socitm, the association of IT professionals in local government, carries out an assessment of councils’ online services each year, and has just published the results for two assessments that look at information on social care.
The first, covering English councils only, had assessors look for information on what local support is available for an older person, while the second, which was carried out in England, Wales and Scotland, asked how easy it was for people to request a social care assessment for an older person.
The proportion of councils providing a good or very good online service was just 50% for the first survey and 49% for the second.
Although last year’s Better Connected survey did not ask the same questions, Socitm said that it was an improvement on previous years’ tasks related to carers, where only around a third of councils were ranked good or very good.
However, Andrew Kaye, head of policy and campaigns at the charity Independent Age, said that the 2017 results were “concerning” - and that the process for finding out information was “unnecessarily complicated” for too many people.
“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,” said Kaye. “It is therefore imperative that relevant, trusted information from local authorities is straightforward to find.”
Among the issues identified in the Socitm report were that many councils failed to think about how people access their content - assessors always start service-based work by Googling the question, finding in this case that more than 10% of sites were not found for this test.
This, it said, was an “unusually high proportion” - figures are usually between 0% and 3%.
It put this down to a large number of councils using third party sites to present information about council services, and failing to properly integrate them into the council’s .gov.uk site.
“It appears that in too many cases too little attention has been paid to the important issue of search engine optimisation,” Socitm said. “Searches often returned web pages of varying relevance or linked to pdfs, which are effectively dead-ends.”
The assessors also found that using a third party site often led to duplicated content, “jarring differences” in presentation and style, and poor content categorisation because the third party used off-the-shelf modules and titles.
‘Care Act making an impact in England’
In addition, Socitm said that Scottish council websites do “dramatically less well” on whether they offer people the chance to make an online request for assessment for an older person. Some 16% ranked ‘good’ for this, compared with 57% of English sites.
Soctim said that this could be because Scottish councils are not subject to the Care Act, which requires English councils to manage demand and expectation around social care, and direct people to other sources of help if they don’t quality for council support.
“Generally speaking, social care pages on Scottish sites provide far less information than do their English and Welsh counterparts about the assessment process, eligibility for financial support, and related information and services,” Socitm said.
It added that the culture of encouraging self-help “is also absent” in Scottish sites.
“There can be little doubt that the Care Act is responsible for a much more transparent presentation of what is (and is not) on offer from English councils,” said Better Connected programme director Vicky Sargent.
“Many state from the outset that most people will have to contribute to care costs and are explicit about thresholds. Scottish councils, which have not been subject to the Care Act, tend to bury these issues and also be more obscure about the whole process of assessment for both needs and financial resources.”
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