Dematerialization of public services: the Defender of Rights warns of persistent “difficulties”

A new report sheds light on the exclusionary effects of the increasing digitization of administrative procedures.

Although the public authorities have made efforts to counter the effects of exclusion that the digitization of public services can cause, a still large part of the population still has difficulty in carrying out their administrative procedures online. Here are the main lessons of the report of the Defender of Rights, published this Wednesday and called “Dematerialization of public services: three years later, where are we?”.

The title refers to the previous report on the subject published by the institution in January 2019, which already alerted to the “risks” and the “driftsof this digital transformation, particularly in terms of unequal access to public services. Three years later, it is clear that there is still work to be done, underlines the vast study by the organization headed by Claire Hédon.

Because if “the public authorities seem to have become aware of the risks posed to a large number of our fellow citizens by a forced march to dematerialization“, emphasizes the Defender of Rights, “the Defender of Rights’ delegates and lawyers continue to resolve ever-increasing numbers of disputes, which are the result of digitization that is unsuited to the situations of users“. In 2021, nearly 115,000 complaints were sent to the Defender of Rights (compared to around 100,000 in 2020), of which nearly 80% concerned public services. “In the hotlines of our territorial delegates, exhausted, sometimes desperate people arrive, who express their relief at finally being able to speak to someone in the flesh.“says Claire Hédon.

13 million people in difficulty with digital»

The fault of “half-hearted progress“, points out the report, which nevertheless welcomes”a large-scale digital inclusion plan(deployment of France services spaces, increase in the coverage of the territory in terms of Internet access, creation of an Observatory of the quality of online procedures, etc.). Despite this, “a significant part of the country’s population will still face difficulties in 2022 related to the dematerialization of administrative procedures which are sometimes insurmountable and have serious consequences in terms of access to rights“, emphasizes the Defender of Rights. Partly because, as in 2019, “13 million people [sont] struggling with digital in our country“.

It is always the same audiences who are the main victims of this dematerialization, notes the report. It cites people with disabilities, prisoners, individuals in precarious situations, the elderly, foreigners or even protected adults. The Defender of Rights also calls for going beyond the clichés of a youth that we think is “agile” with the internet and therefore with online administrative procedures, while “people under 25 are in more difficulty than the rest of the population to achieve (them)“.

The Defender of Rights does not content itself with establishing the facts. It also makes 38 recommendations, intended to promote “another approach“. It calls, for example, for each user to be able to freely choose their mode of relationship with the administration (counter, postal mail, telephone, online service, e-mails), or even to include in the law the obligation “to preserve several methods of access to public services so that no administrative procedure is accessible only by dematerialized means“. The independent administrative authority also presents several recommendations to “improve the design and deployment of public sites“. Finally, on the support side, she recommends “the creation of a sector of digital mediation professions“.

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