Research into the user experience (UX) of some of the UK’s top housing association websites has found many are falling behind when it comes to facilitating online users, particularly those with disabilities.

The report entitled ‘Are housing associations incorporating inclusive design into their websites?’ by digital agency, Sigma, revealed a number of shortcomings associated with 10 UK housing websites including Great Places, Places for People, Yorkshire Housing and Accent Group.

Using independent, heuristic testing, Sigma scored each website out of a possible 30 across a variety of categories encompassing: overall usability; how easy the sites were to use on different devices; how well they incorporated online self-service options; and their accessibility for all users, including those with auditory, physical, cognitive and visual disabilities. On average, the websites scored just 15.5.

The report found that many of the sites failed when it came to accessibility and inclusivity for disabled users, with seven out of the ten websites scoring way below average (50%) for accessibility. Only one of the websites had sufficient colour contrast, which is needed to enable users with visual impairments to view the sites, while just one was screen reader friendly, meaning those using assistive technology would struggle to view the other nine sites.

This comes following the passing of new legislation from the European Commission just last year which now means all public sector websites and mobile applications across Europe are required, by law, to be more accessible.

In addition, most of the associations in Sigma’s testing had considered the growing importance of online self-service (being able to pay rent and request repairs online etc.). However, only half had online account areas that were easy to find, and two didn’t have account areas at all. In addition, one of the sites’ online account area was unsecure.

Commenting on the findings, Hilary Stephenson, managing director at Sigma said: “While we only looked into a small sample of websites, our findings do demonstrate that many housing associations are really struggling when it comes to their online experience – which is understandable when you consider the budgetary constraints hanging over them.

“However, in the housing sector, a good user experience has the power to increase tenant engagement, improve customer service, cut costs and simplify processes – so it’s in the best interest of these organisations to think about how they might improve the online experience for tenants.

“Many of the websites in our testing had considered the importance of usability to some extent, but it was disappointing to see that so many failed to cater for disabled users – especially considering our ageing population and the fact that there is an increasing number of people living with disabilities. Plus, in light of the European Commission’s new accessibility legislation, all housing associations should now be striving to offer inclusive digital services – regardless of their public or private status.

“And although most of the websites had online self-service options, there’s still more that can, and should, be being done by housing associations to streamline this offering.”

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