DWP ‘digital confidence’ study offers insight into effective online service provision

Figures released from an Ipsos study show huge variations in the proportion of recipients at risk of ‘digital exclusion’.

purple and yellow abstract painting

Published late-March 2024, the research was commissioned by the Department for Work & Pensions [DWP] and involved almost 8,o00 people who receive some form of state benefit. The study was conducted between 20th March and 23rd June last year. 

Although overall uptake of the department’s digital services is high, with an average of 84% accessing some form of claim system online, this falls significantly for some types of payment. Pension Credit, for example, is claimed online by just 55% of everyone receiving this support – the lowest on the list. 

Proportion of all Claimants Accessing DWP Services Online, By Claim Type
Job Seeker’s Allowance – 97%
Disability Living Allowance for Children – 95%
Universal Credit – 93%
Bereavement Support Payment – 93%
Carers Allowance – 92%
State Pension – 86%
Personal Independence Payment – 84%
Employment & Support Allowance – 81%
Attendance Allowance – 61%
Pension Credit – 55%

Of the 16% of benefit claimants who are not accessing online services, it was found that 9% had never been on the internet, and the remaining 7% had been online in the past but no longer had a connection. It was also noted that ‘human interaction’ plays a particularly crucial role in complex cases, for example ‘resolving payment and non-payment related queries, or disputing decisions and making complaints’. 

‘Although a minority, the biggest barrier for offline customers was simply a lack of interest and fear that they lacked digital skills, and the internet was felt to be too difficult to access and use,’ the report stated. ‘These were typically PC and AA (Pension Credit and Attendance Allowance) customers. Training on digital skills could help with the fear around going online. However, given the demographic profile of these customers, it would be particularly challenging to engage them all in digital services and many would simply not engage. It is important other modes to contact DWP remain available to not exclude customers.

‘Typically, the majority of customers preferred to access the internet via a smartphone,’ it continued. ‘A range of different devices were favoured by different customer groups, with older customers more likely to engage with tablets. If future DWP digital services were compatible with a range of different devices, it could lead to higher take up amongst all DWP customers. The report also highlights that apps would engage younger customers and those with higher levels of digital skills. It is therefore worth DWP considering whether offering services via an app is viable.’

Following the news, a recommendation has been made to Downing Street that more support should be provided to those benefit claimants who are at risk of ‘digital exclusion’. Such individuals tend to be in older age groups and have a lower level of education, with under-35s who have attended university reporting the highest levels of online confidence.

In contrast, people off work with long-term sicknesses and retirees were found to have the least confidence. Regularity of internet access was also a key differentiator. Individuals who are online several times per day are far more confident than those who only access the internet weekly or even monthly. Of those who were using digital services, smartphones are the preferred device. 

A spokesperson for DWP told Infotec that all services are constantly reviewed to identify where improvements can be made and all central Government services are assessed based on the Service Standard, before being rolled out to the public. This Standard mandates that any user who needs ‘assisted support’ should be able to access public services via other channels. For example, over the phone, face-to-face, by letter or webchat. They also pointed to Help To Claim, a system delivered by Citizens Advice and Citizens Advice Scotland, which can walk people through benefit claims. 

Last month, a planned reduction in HMRC helpline support for UK taxpayers was very quickly abandoned after public responses were taken into account. The department had intended to cut provision of phone services by around 50%, driving users online. However, it was found that a significant proportion of those that need to contact the organisations still prefer to do this by speaking to a ‘real person’ rather than logging in digitally.

More technology: 

Electric buses launch in Bath

Improvements to 999 infrastructure follow biggest tech outage in a century

Grants for VR training in health and social care

Image: Michael Dziedzic


Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

Help us break the news – share your information, opinion or analysis
Back to top