William Eichler 17 May 2017

Councils make ‘encouraging’ progress on digital access to care information

Councils have made ‘encouraging’ progress when it comes to the provision of information and advice about local care services on their websites, survey finds.

Under the Care Act 2015, councils in England are required to ensure that all people in their area have access to suitable information and advice about care options.

Two surveys carried out by Socitm, the society for IT/digital leaders, tested how easy it was to find local care services in England and how well councils assessed the care needs for elderly people in England, Scotland and Wales.

Both surveys showed around 50% of local authorities tested provide a good or very good service online.

This indicates improvement when compared with past surveys on social care by Socitm. For example, on the tasks ‘Find out about breaks for carers’ in 2014-15 and ‘Find out about care homes for elderly relative’ in 2013-14, only a third of councils did as well.

Socitm described this as ‘encouraging’, but warned within the survey sample reviewers found sites offering a very poor experience to their users. The digital leaders noted these councils could learn from the best performing councils such as Barnsley, Coventry City and Wokingham.

One area of concern raised by the survey was the poor ‘findability' of council social care services from Google searches.

Using the search phrase ‘XYZ council social care assessment for elderly person’ an unusually high proportion of sites - more than 10% - were not found for this task. For most surveys the percentage is between 0% and 3%.

Socitm said 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 sites are not well integrated with the council’s corporate website.

‘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 Vicky Sargent, Socitm’s Better Connected programme director.

‘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.

‘Scottish councils are much more likely to ask people to phone the council than complete a self-assessment and submit it online, which is a growing feature of English councils’ sites.’

Commenting on the findings, Andrew Kaye, head of policy and campaigns at the elderly persons charity 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.’

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