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Apply for older person's bus pass - 2015-16

Why important

A free bus pass is one of the plus points about getting older, and a popular reason for visiting council webpages about public transport. Mobility issues in this group can make online applications attractive, particularly as the alternative is often to travel to a library or customer service centre. However, older people tend not to be online every day (42% of those 65+ compared with 73% in the rest of the population), and will be deterred from using the online channel for more complicated things involving, for example proof of eligibility, unless processes are made as simple as they can be and are clearly and simply explained.

Date of assessment

September 2015


County councils in England only.


30% of sites are ranked as very good for this task (4 star) and 18% as good (3 star). When we last tested this task two years ago, eight counties (30%) offered a complete online application. Today, more than half do. However, just having an online application facility does not necessarily mean you have a top site, since one of this group scores sufficiently badly on other key criteria to achieve just two stars, which equates to failing this task under the old Better connected scoring regime. Sites that do not perform well on this task tend to fail on details of presentation and navigation that are set out below. Close reading of individual site reports will enable councils to identify their shortcomings and improve performance by following best practice highlighted here.

Find your council report

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 2017-18 results

Headline 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

  • 4 stars (Very Good)
  • 3 stars (Good)
  • 2 stars (Unsatisfactory)
  • 1 star (Poor)


Log in to view question set or View sample question set from 2016-17 (pdf)

Task report

Most sites were able to answer the questions posed and it was usually easy to find the right section, but the ease of the journey through the information varied.

To apply for an older person’s bus pass, evidence of eligibility and a photograph is required, so this is a slightly more complex online application to implement. Some sites required people to scan and upload proof of address and identity but a few made the process easier for residents by using a credit reference agency to verify these details instead.

The term ‘concessionary travel’ was often used to describe the services on offer here. It’s important to remember that ‘bus pass’ is the common parlance for what we were looking for. When signposting councils need to ensure that familiar terms such as ‘bus pass’ are used in subheadings and added to the A-Z.

The naming of the free bus pass varied and included terms such as ‘Senior Citizen’s bus pass’, ‘Older person’s bus pass’ and ‘Age-related pass’; some sites had localised branded offerings such as ‘Gold Card’ and ‘NoW Card’. Occasionally such brand names would find their way into a top level menu without a supporting explanation, with the result that unfamiliar users are very unlikely to click them. In one case, the council had decided to use the term ‘National bus pass’ right through the content. This could be confusing as some people might conclude this was a pass for national coach journeys or long trips, when the opposite is true since the pass is for travel on local buses only.

Sites that were truly customer focused structured the content according to the audience or type of pass rather than the topic. Rather than describing all forms of ‘concessionary travel’ together, they split the information into the types, so that all the information related to an older person’s bus pass could be found together. This meant that a senior citizen could read relevant information about eligibility without having to skip over content about eligibility for a disabled pass. It makes for a much quicker and smoother journey through the information.

Good content tells people only what they need to know and minimises background detail, particularly in top level introductory content. Thankfully only one site began by explaining the background to the English National Concessionary Travel Scheme. Another very cluttered site inserted detail about council decisions relating to the scheme from a few years ago. This extraneous detail gets in the way of the key information about who can get a pass, when and where they can use it, and how to go about getting one.

On the other hand, in the interests of simplicity and stripping content to the bare minimum, it is possible to go too far and miss out a crucial detail. A couple of sites made this mistake when encouraging people to use the GOV.UK state pension age checker to find out if they were eligible for a pass. The sites failed to mention that men are eligible once they reach the pensionable age of a woman born on the same day, so they must select ‘female’ when asked for gender. Many more sites made a correct statement about this in the eligibility notes, but failed to remind people at the point at which they linked to the checker. The GOV.UK site itself has a page about applying for an older person’s bus pass that simply links to the checker without including this important detail.

Good practice

  • Signposting at all levels (search, A-Z, navigation) should include or support familiar terminology such as ‘bus pass’ not just ‘concessionary travel’
  • If providing a table of eligibility dates, make sure that it displays well on different devices including mobile phones and that it is up-to-date with rising state pension qualification dates
  • Consider minimizing the effort for users by removing the requirement to upload proof of address and age – some sites such as Northamptonshire’s have achieved this by using credit reference agency checks
  • State clearly any differences in supporting documents required using the different methods of application
  • Make clear when the bus pass can’t be used as well as when it can - for example on trains
  • Provide information about what evidence of eligibility is required and which documents are accepted before the user has started entering information into the online form

Poor practice

  • Too much introductory waffle giving background to the English National Concessionary Travel Scheme and historical information about the Council’s implementation of it
  • Lack of clear instruction at point of linking to it on using the GOV.UK eligibility checker – ie need to select female gender even if you are male
  • Designing the content around the concessionary travel scheme topic rather than type of pass – eg requiring users to scroll all types of bus pass eligibility details rather than access all relevant information to the bus pass they are interested in one place
  • Wordy content, over use of passive voice and lack of plain English – use of words and phrases such as ‘on grounds of pensionable entitlement’, ‘levied’, ‘reside’, ‘residency criteria’,  and ‘administrative county’

Sites that we recommend

Cambridgeshire CC

It's shame there was no entry in the A-Z because otherwise this task was exemplary. All the information I needed was on one page, concise but thoroughly explained. An excellent experience all round. The online forms were clearly marked and looked well thought out. Well done! A concise yet thorough page of information answering all of our questions.


This was an excellent experience. The content was very concise and very easy to understand and in plain English. It resembles the GOV.UK way of doing things and allowed me to fly through the review. I was impressed it explained the difference between applying online and by post in that you have to scan and upload your proofs if applying online. Well done for a really easy, seamless experience that is a brilliant example to others. Excellent clear landing page, leads to very concise, jargon free content that is very easy to grasp and understand on first reading.

Norfolk CC

The signposting could be improved, but the content was excellent and very clear. Well done! I particularly liked the information explaining that documentary evidence is NOT needed for online applications. The structure of the information was clear and helpful all the way through. The how to apply section is very good.

Northamptonshire CC

The site provides simple information and a good introduction to the online form. Our questions are answered, though at the start of the online form the eligibility date is simplistic - but the full information is found on the main page. Good format of content. The landing page has a prominent link in main part of the page. This is not my favourite example, but nevertheless a very concise and useful set of information. The introduction to the online form is very helpful.

Oxfordshire CC

Overall I thought the site handled this topic in an exemplary manner. The content was concise yet very informative and answered all of our questions. There’s an excellent page about applying with clear explanation of the differences in proofs required between online, telephone and in person applications. The site also has an FAQ page with a picture of a card to show you what it will look like.

Staffordshire CC

This site excelled in terms of promoting bus passes, because of the top task structure of the site. The information was concise and delivered in an accessible manner using a question and answer format. Good promotion of the task on the landing page.



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