Will Local Governments regret their inaction on website accessibility?

13 Aug 2019

At Sitemorse we published our 2019 Q3 UK Local Government INDEX this week. The INDEX has been published quarterly since 2006 and ranks the websites of over 400 UK Local Government authorities, based on User Experience, Search Engine Optimisation and Governance, Risk and Compliance.

Congratulations to North Devon Council for taking first place, a position they last occupied in Q4 2016 and to Barnsley Metropolitan Borough Council for rising the most places up the table.

However, only 3 councils, North Devon, Harrogate and the Orkney Islands passed WCAG 2.1 Level A and AA tests on 100% of their web pages. 

On 23 September 2018 The EU Directive on the accessibility of public sector websites and mobile apps (Directive (EU) 2016/2102 using European standard EN 301 549 V1.1.2 (2015-04)), came into force for in the UK. The aim of the regulations is to ensure public sector websites and mobile apps can be used by as many people as possible.

This includes those with:

  • impaired vision
  • motor difficulties
  • cognitive impairments or learning disabilities
  • deafness or impaired hearing

Accessibility means more than putting things online. It means making your content and design clear and simple enough so that most people can use it without needing to adapt it, while supporting those who do.

There are three key dates for compliance to be achieved:

  • 22 September 2019 - New public sector websites (those published after 22 September 2018)
  • 22 September 2020 - All other public sector websites
  • 22 June 2021 - Public sector mobile apps

If we focus purely on Accessibility, then there are some rather disappointing statistics when comparing the Q3 INDEX results with those from Q2.

  • The number of councils scoring 8 or higher increased by 1
  • The number of councils scoring 3 or less decreased from 138 to 135
  • The number of councils scoring zero decreased by 5

Only 49 councils have actually improved the Accessibility of their website. 45 Councils have seen their accessibility score of their website decline and 313 have made no progress. Indeed there are 2 councils that fail the level A and AA tests on every page.

Perhaps councils are focused on September 2020 and within the next 12 months we will see huge improvement.

We’ve already seen that in the US that lawsuits alleging web sites discriminating against people with disabilities are increasingly common – how long will it be before we see the same happening in the UK?

Perhaps the council leaders need to do more. Council budgets are under increasing pressure and having to pay huge fines would not be helpful to anyone, not least the constituents. 

An honourable mention should be made to Spelthorne Borough Council who have increased their accessibility score by 7 points – well done!

Top ten websites

  1. North Devon Council
  2. Bracknell Forest Council
  3. Blaby District Council
  4. Orkney Islands Council
  5. Richmondshire District Council
  6. Slough Borough Council
  7. Broxtowe Borough Council
  8. Eden District Council
  9. Somerset West and Taunton Council
  10. Scarborough Borough Council

Five Most improved websites

  • Barnsley Metropolitan Borough Council
  • Warwickshire County Council
  • Nottingham City Council
  • Essex County Council
  • Knowsley Metropolitan Borough Council

The full 2019 Q3 UK Local Government results can be found here: Sitemorse UK Local Government Q3 2019 INDEX Results