Many government websites, including the flagship UKonline, are failing to meet the public's needs, new research has claimed.
A report published today by the Society of IT Management (Socitm) and charity Citizens Advice examined whether information on government sites could help with the problems most commonly reported to Citizens Advice Bureaux across the UK.
Websites that came under scrutiny included those run by UKonline, the Department of Trade and Industry, NHS Direct and the Department for Work and Pensions.
Some 16 local authority websites were also checked for how well they demonstrated community leadership and joined up government by directing users to relevant central government sites.
Researchers tested responses to likely questions on issues such as benefits, housing, health, debt, legal proceedings and consumer complaints.
"The performance of UKonline as a signpost to e-government services is disappointing," the report concluded.
Martin Greenwood, programme manager for Socitm Insight, explained that UKonline "did not provide the links to the sort of government sites that would have the information needed".
But the report was not all doom and gloom. "We did pick up on good practice," said Greenwood.
"Energywatch.org.uk dealt effectively with questions over consumer goods and services, and the City of Manchester has an effective website.
"But there are major deficiencies on sites that should help citizens with information that they are likely to need.
"For example, there is a lack of advice on consumer debt on the Financial Services Authority website."
Testers also found that sites incorporating internet search engines such as Google often failed to direct users to appropriate sites and information when everyday language was used in their search terms.
The ability to access claim forms online is a key aspect of the usefulness and usability of government websites, according to the report.
"But the user experience differs widely, with some being easy to download and others unnecessarily difficult," said Greenwood.
David Harker, chief executive at Citizens Advice, said in a statement: "E-services have the potential to transform service delivery for the better.
"It is therefore vitally important that public services think carefully about how they design services, and how they provide information through the internet."
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