One in five UK citizens used Government digital services for first time during pandemic, research shows

Pandemic encourages widespread digital adoption and more sharing of personal data

The pandemic has sparked considerable new interest and uptake in digital apps and services supplied by the UK Government and public services, according to research conducted by SAS, the leader in analytics.

Nearly one in five (18.8%) started using a government digital service or mobile app for first time during the pandemic. This is a very large number of the UK adult population – more than 12 million people. Not only that but it’s more than was seen across UK sectors as a whole (16.2%), and second only to the healthcare sector (20.2%), which is mainly made up of the NHS and so another part of the public sector.

A quarter (25.6%) intend to continue using government online services permanently instead of in-person or physical interactions, and more than one in five (22.3%) plan to use a mixture of online and physical interactions. The move to online services for government and public services should therefore be sustained beyond the pandemic, and these percentages are again slightly higher compared to all sectors combined.

More than a quarter (26.4%) felt the customer experience had got worse during the pandemic. This meant government services fared less well than all industry sectors combined, where only 18% felt there was a deterioration. Overall sentiment was positive, however, and 17.1% felt it was quicker and easier to use services online and a further 18.3% felt there were more ways than ever to connect with government and public services. It seems that citizens are starting to appreciate the convenience of dealing with government online as opposed to face-to-face or via paper and post.

Healthcare services stood up particularly well during the pandemic, with less than one in five (18%) saying the experience had got worse. This suggests that whilst NHS services can be hard to access, once they are accessed the experience is generally positive.

This overall improvement in experience coupled with the move to digital services, has also seen citizens express a greater willingness to share personal data. More are now likely to share data than not (by a margin of 10.8%) and nearly a quarter (23.8%) are more willing to share their data if it results in a better experience or they are rewarded in some way for doing so. There is slightly less willingness to share personal data compared to other industries but only by a small margin (29.2% versus 30.3%).

In healthcare, citizens felt more emboldened to share personal data (32.1%). This meant, compared to those less willing to share, there was a net 15.8% more willing to share their data since the pandemic started. This may not be surprising due to greater use of digital health apps during the pandemic, but again it’s a significant number of people expressing a likely shift in behaviour.

Steve Perks, Customer Intelligence Practice, SAS, said:

“Faced with unprecedented pressures and challenges, the quality of the citizen experience in the public sector held up strongly during the pandemic as many more started using online services. This has probably led to the greater willingness to share personal data, as this is needed to take full advantage of a digital offering. It’s a significant development as citizens have typically been less likely to share personal data with the state, compared to private enterprises, due to ‘Big Brother’ concerns.

“The influx of many new digital citizens and willingness to share data presents an exciting opportunity for the Government to refocus efforts on the digital experience. The next step is to break down the legacy of departmental silos and focus on the needs of citizens to deliver a more joined-up, personalised and high-quality experience across all areas of the public sector.”

Despite this new opportunity to drive change, fraud remains a concern. Almost two-thirds (61.8%) of all those surveyed, cross-industry, are now either more vigilant when it comes to fraud or have experienced it personally. And many will be aware that government services are just as at risk of fraud as commercial organisations are.

For more insight into how consumers and other industries across EMEA performed during lockdown, download the full report: Experience Disrupted: Is COVID-19 continuing to change customer behaviour?

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