A recent government report has revealed that the growth in people who use the internet to contact government has levelled out over the last few years, outlining how the government might encourage more people to go online.
Every year since 2004, except 2010, the government has published the results of a survey of thousands of people, looking into how they communicate with the government. This survey is the last in the series and was released by Special Secretary of State Gary Gray.
Previous reports had shown the growth in use of e-government channels (internet and telephone), but the growth has stabilised since 2008. Two thirds of people used e-government services to contact the government in 2011. Unfortunately, while government contact via telephone has increased from 30 per cent to 38 per cent, in 2009 to 2011, internet use has decreased from 38 per cent to 35 per cent.
Age, location, income and employment status were all factors that weighed on whether an Australian was more or less likely to contact the government over the internet. Lower incomes, a rural setting and unemployment led to a lower likelihood of online contact. Households with children, on the other hand, were more likely to use the internet to communicate with the government than households without children.
Of those who did use the internet for government interaction, 60 per cent accessed a website, 23 per cent used email and 17 per cent used an online contact form.
When speaking to the two thirds who did not use the internet, the survey found that in some cases (16 per cent) the desired contact with the government was only possible in person. Some (7 per cent) said that there was no online option available, and 17 per cent would prefer to speak to a real person. Meanwhile, 14 per cent didn't have access to the internet, while 6 per cent of people didn't have sufficient familiarity with using the internet. Others found it hard to navigate the government's website, or didn't know there was an online option. A small proportion of people were also concerned about online security and privacy.
The survey found that where there was a choice to use the internet to contact government over some other e-government channel, the internet was the preferred method of contact. Indeed, just under half of those who were able to use the internet to contact the government had done so the last time they tried to contact an agency. The survey also found higher satisfaction levels for those who used the internet to contact the government over those who used the telephone, although the highest satisfaction levels were found in people who'd been served in person.
The report said that despite stabilised levels of internet take-up, some people would like to use the internet for communicating with government and that uptake of technology, especially among older people, was increasing, there should still be potential for growth.
The government should investigate how to encourage those who use the internet for other purposes to use it to contact government, too, said the report. It also said the government should look into making sure that online options were available for people to use and that person-to-person interviews were only mandated when really necessary.
People especially wanted to receive payments online, according to the report, which identified it as a possible service with which the government could increase uptake of internet use.