A new study has been critical of the quality and accessibility of UK government websites.

The report (pdf), by the Public Accounts Committee, finds that the public sector has some work to do on the usability of its websites – which it says have barely improved since 2001.

The report revealed some surprises, including the fact that the government apparently has no idea how many websites it operates, while more than a quarter of government departments are unaware of the costs of operating their sites.

The major criticisms were:

  • Accessibility: Incredibly, a third of websites reportedly don’t comply with the government’s own standards on accessibility. On several sites, text could not be resized, and text alternatives to non-text content were unavailable.
  • Site search: The search functions on government websites were generally poor, and only searched within individual sites, rather than across government departments. According to the report, the Cabinet Office is working with Google to improve this search function.
  • Lack of feedback options: Government websites aren’t very ‘Web 2.0’ either, with few means of leaving comments about their information and services.
  • Usability: The report criticised a lack of improvement in quality and said that either user activity on these websites was not being monitored, or information was not being used to make improvements. One in six departments gather no user data from their websites, while many of those that do are not using this data. Honourable exceptions include the Transport for London site, and direct.gov.uk.

Having used some of these sites, this report comes as no surprise. Here’s what happened when I tried to access direct.gov.uk earlier:

direct.gov.uk error

Related research:

Web Design Best Practice Guide

Usability and Accessibility Buyer’s Guide 2007

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Google inks partnership for better govt. info access
Travel websites need to improve usability – study