UK government may abolish paper forms and go online only

November 22, 2010

UK government may abolish paper forms and go online onlyThe British government is reportedly preparing to unveil plans to abolish all paper application forms for government services. Instead the public will be required to apply online in what’s being seen as a cost-cutting measure.

The expected announcement would be in a response to a report to be published this week by the government’s “digital advisor” Martha Lane Fox, best known as one of the founders of Lastminute.com, one of the most prominent companies of the first UK “dot com boom.”

The minister responsible for government administration, Francis Maude, has not confirmed the plans yet but is quoted as saying that putting all services online is “the aspiration.” He said, “Online services are better for consumers and better for government, making services available in a convenient 24/7 format and reducing the costs of transactions.”

The Observer newspaper reports that in response to the obvious problem that millions of people do not have home internet access, the plan is to allow the public to complete applications electronically at post offices. The problem there is that more than 2,500 post office branches have closed in the past three years while libraries, another option for public internet access, are under threat from public spending cutbacks.

The reported schedule for making the switch online appears to take into account the fact that older people are disproportionately less likely to have access to the internet. The first services to switch to electronic-only applications will be student loans, followed by services aimed at parents of school-age children.

While you might expect a tech reporter to be all for the move, I’m afraid I’m simply too cynical to believe this has any chance of success. The record of government computer systems in Britain is pretty atrocious (government departments are still using the virus-ridden Internet Explorer 6) and many people simply don’t trust officials to keep electronic data secure.

Given that the applications are for government services rather than consumer products, it also seems a near certainty that the move will also wind up with accessibility lawsuits from people unable to access the electronic applications.

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