Visits for social care have not historically been in the top tier of reasons why people come to council websites (typically 2% to 2.5%, varying by council type). Numbers receiving social care services from the council are relatively small and until recently enquiries will have been handled mostly through referral and phone and face to face channels. However, under the Care Act 2014, councils in England gained new responsibilities to ensure that all people in their area have access to suitable information and advice about care options. Although they are not obliged to provide all this themselves, social care departments have made significant investments over the last three years in their online provision.
February and March
County councils, metropolitan districts, London boroughs and English unitary councils
Better Connected tested Find out about breaks for carers in 2014-15 and Find out about care homes for elderly relative in 2013-14. This year’s survey is intentionally wider ranging because we wanted to explore the impact of the Care Act on councils’ provision of information and advice about local services. The result shows 50% of councils providing a good or very good service in linking people to information. This compares to around a third of councils reaching the same standard in the previous surveys mentioned. This is encouraging, but there are clearly individual councils that need to do much better – including six whose service provision was simply not found in our Google search. Please see also the companion survey Request care assessment for elderly relative. Question sets for both surveys were developed in collaboration with the older people’s charity Independent Age.
Check ‘coverage’ to see if your council has been surveyed. Go to councils page and select your council. Look for link to task report under 2016-17 results
Provide a good or very good online service based on this survey
Better connected rankings
*Discrepancies in the figures are due to rounding off
Better Connected starts all service-based surveys by testing whether a Google search can find the relevant service. If a site fails this findability test, it cannot score above 1 star in the assessment. We justify this on the basis that the overwhelming majority of website sessions start in Google, and if sites cannot be found, they may as well not exist.
For this survey we used the search phrase ‘XYZ council care for older person’. 4% (ie 6) of the 152 English websites tested were not found. For most Better Connected surveys the percentage is between 0% and 3%, so this is on the high side, but not nearly as high as for our companion social care survey on assessment. It is however very disappointing for the six councils affected, particularly when some of them are clearly providing high quality content.
Overall councils tended to be better able to answer individual questions in this survey than they were on our survey about assessment, but lost marks for user journey.
This was very often due to poor handover between council corporate sites and the third party sites many social care departments have set up to provide information and access to social care services in the community.
Our other social care survey report explains that, where third party sites like Shop 4 Support, Care Choice, My Life, My Care and others are used to present social care information and services, a good user experience is often compromised by:
• duplicating content on two sites (creating user anxiety around whether content is the same, or whether one version is better or more up to date)
• failing to ‘deep link’ between something discussed on the council site (eg residential care) and the relevant pages with listing of care homes on the third party site
• jarring differences in the presention and style of content between the main council site and the third party site
• poor content categorisation on third party sites dependent on pre-determined, off-the-shelf modules and titles
• over-engineering of some third party sites resulting in long and/or circular user journeys
For this particular task, which is primarily about finding services, it is particularly important to ‘deep-link’ into any third party site. So, if a visitor is on a page on the council main site about residential care, they need to be linked to the relevant page on the third party site, not just a home page where the visitor will need to start the journey from scratch.
It is not always easy using the navigation or filtering provided by third party sites to find desired services or service categories. Many third party sites seem to over segment their content, requiring an endless stream of clicking to get anywhere. Many are guilty of poor labeling, using meaningless titles such as 'Information and advice' or 'Support'.
Some councils use multiple third party suppliers and this can feel very disorienting – it would make for an easier user journey to have just one really good database of care homes or home care providers rather than two or more run side by side.
It was surprising to find a lot of council sites (as opposed to third party directories and e-marketplaces) with pages providing overview information about, say, support at home or care homes but without clear links enabling people to take action and find services. Often the link was incorporated into paragraphs, positioned at the very bottom of the page or not referred to in context.
Despite these issues, reviewers found general advice and links to care services and options for older people, other than council-delivered services, via 80% of council sites.
Reviewers were asked to look for ‘prominent advice and well flagged signposts to access sources and providers outside the council's own provision. This may be via an e-marketplace or directory linked to the council or it may be more general advice about services/advice from voluntary organisations such as Age UK or the private sector. Links need to cover more than one service - ie links to care homes/homecare providers only are not enough’ (to score Yes to this question).
Survey data shows that reviewers were able to find lists of help at home providers from 78% of council sites and local care homes or nursing homes via 87% of them. Slightly less satisfactory was that only 62% provided an easy route from mentions of these facilities to their inspection reports.
Although the main emphasis in this survey was access to information, we also tested how clear councils were being about needs assessments and eligibility for council funding.
This confirms the findings of our other social care survey (where we asked slightly different questions on the same topics). Councils need to be more upfront about these issues and information about needs assessment should be linked to that about funding. Our results show that just over a third of councils are not providing clear answers to among the first questions anyone researching care needs on a council website, for themselves or anyone else, is likely to ask.
Good council sites make it explicit that anyone can have an assessment and that although they may not be eligible for council support, they may still have care needs (conversely, some councils phrased ineligibility as 'not eligible for adult social care' – as though somehow this group won’t be able get care at all).
It is important that the fact that assessment is free of charge is made clear, especially as there are now external companies and organisations carrying out assessments and some do charge for this.
One of the lines of thought behind the Care Act was about encouraging citizens to think more about their future care needs, the costs involved and how these might be managed, reduced and met. Part of this is about understanding the real costs of care, especially where home care or residential care is concerned. This is why we added to the survey the question ‘Is there a calculator on or linked from the site to help me understand and estimate likely costs of care for an individual may face over time?’ This was the case on only 13% of sites.
We also asked reviewers to look for sources of general information about funding care needs - not just what council provides - and particularly for 'self-funders'. In this case we found that 70% of sites do provide such advice.
We also looked at how many sites made referrals to sources of advice from the voluntary sector, which came in at 66%. This is probably something that needs looking at in a bit more detail, since we did not attempt to quantify the use made of voluntary sector tools and resources, and one of our reviewers commented that:
it’s surprising that so few sites include links to useful advice and resources provided by ‘people-focused organisations such as Age UK, the Money Advice Service, SAGA, Which and PayingForCare.org.
Where signposting to external organisations did exist, very often these were presented as a list of “useful links” to homepages with little explanation as to why they’d be useful. It was rare to find the thoughtful inclusion of well explained, in-context deep links.
Oxfordshire County Council’s website was picked out as an exception here, one that stood ‘head and shoulders above the rest in terms of a succinct, easy to understand customer journey, but also wove useful deep links to external providers of advice into their webpages’. (See recommended section for links to OCC’s website).
Whilst the vast majority of sites (88%) were up to date and accurate, a few referred to the 2015 changes in the future tense, giving the impression that the site hadn't been looked at for a while.
More than 90% of sites provide a consistent or near consistent performance across the two surveys. By this we mean that their two results are within one star ranking of each other. Standout sites across the two surveys are Barnsley, Coventry and Wokingham, which scored 4 stars recommended in both surveys, a considerable achievement.
Lots of really useful, well written advice and information - clear links and sensible titles, and a decent third party site with lots more useful content. Excellent throughout.
Bath & NE Somerset
This is a very good site. It was easy to find what I was looking for and the content is written in a friendly, approachable tone. The self-funding information is great and spells out that I may still be eligible for certain benefits as well as providing good contact details so I can take action. I particularly liked the Care homes section, which has information on the standards I should expect as well as the links to CQC.
Excellent throughout - clear, well written information, always linked to further related information so that the user journey flows logically from each piece of information. The directory of services seems nicely integrated with the main website.
Very good - stacks of useful information and clear links through to all the main details I need to know about applying and qualifying for care services. There was maybe just a bit of ambiguity in some of the links but I never felt lost.
This site proves it is possible to provide good quality information and clear customer journeys for social care tasks. I found the information I needed quickly. The explanations were clear. At every step I was signposted to a range of useful information from other organisations or providers. I really liked the clear layout of the pages. The menus were easy to navigate. There were lots of well explained in-context links. The LiveWell database is easy to search and entries are really useful, containing CQC ratings, maps, links etc. I would strongly advise that this model be used by other local authorities.
Absolutely fantastic - clean, simple and clear information presented very nicely and an excellent flow through the pages allowing me to get exactly what I need first time. A shining example of how to do it.