The Defender of Rights had devoted a report in 2019 to the dematerialization of administrative procedures. He warned about a dematerialization carried out " at a "forced march", without taking into account the very real difficulties of a part of the population and the specific needs of certain categories of users ". It made 22 recommendations to the administrations.
Three years later, the Defender of Rights (Claire Hédon, appointed in July 2020 as head of this independent authority, responsible for defending the rights of citizens) returns, in a detailed report, on the inequalities in access to rights caused by the dematerialization of public services.
In 2021, nearly 115,000 complaints were addressed to the Human Rights Defender, 91,000 of which concerned public services, according to the figures published in the report presented by the independent authority on February 16, 2022. The dematerialization of administrative procedures represents a significant part of these cases. On the basis of this report, she makes 38 new recommendations.
A contrasted assessment
Measures to promote digital inclusionThe issues of inclusion have been taken into account more in the discourse of public authorities in this area, observes the Human Rights Defender. "In recent years, the state has introduced numerous measures to support users in difficulty and to measure and improve the quality of digital services. It has also invested in expanding the possibilities of real access to an Internet of sufficient quality to carry out its online procedures.
- Improvements in network coverage and internet connectivity are noticeable, with the deployment of superfast broadband and fiber, and an increase in the rate of connection and connectivity.
- The effort to support users has resulted in the transformation of the Maisons des services au public (MSaP) into France Services centers.
- As part of the France Recovery Plan, 250 million euros are dedicated to digital inclusion. " This plan has enabled the implementation of measures such as the France Services digital advisors, whose role is to make users aware of the challenges of digital technology and to assist them with their online administrative procedures.
- The Caregiver Connect tool is part of this same logicOnce deployed, it will enable authorized professional caregivers, via a France Connect identification system, to carry out administrative procedures online in a legal and secure manner on behalf of people who have difficulty using digital tools.
- The distribution of the Digital Pass targeted by prescribers (local authorities, CCAS, public establishments, companies) has brought vulnerable people closer to qualified places with the aim of enhancing the skills acquired and not focusing on the deficiencies.
- Finally, in all of the approaches intended to improve support for users, the public authorities are promoting "outreach".
A renewed focus on the "quality" of digital services"Alongside the levers mobilized for digital inclusion, a comprehensive approach to improving the quality of digital service was announced as early as October 13, 2017, as part of the launch of the Public Action 2022 plan."
The Interministerial Digital Directorate (DINUM) "is positioned as a player in improving the quality of all digital public services . " It contributes to this through the "Observatory of the quality of online procedures", which makes it possible to monitor, according to various indicators (of simplicity, accessibility, satisfaction...) the evolution of the 250 administrative procedures most often carried out on the Internet".
Several innovative tools aim to collect users' opinions in order to take them into account in the design or evolution of public sites:
- the "ServicesPublics+" program designed to identify the difficulties encountered by users in carrying out their procedures,
- the opening of the "voxusagers.gouv.fr" and "Oups.gouv.fr" websites19,
- the integration of the "I give my opinion" button at the end of an administrative process to collect the user experience,
- the "Digital Solidarity" telephone platform, which aims to provide daily answers to citizens' digital problems,
- the Pix platform,
- Deployment of territorial hubs that aim to structure digital mediation actors on an interdepartmental scale...
Continuing difficultiesDematerialization processes that are still inadequate "With regard to the reliability of dematerialization processes conducted by the administrations, some of the difficulties reported in 2019 are still true. In particular, the cases handled by the Rights Defender show once again that some digital processes do not take into account all the situations provided for by the texts. In such cases, digital technology only offers a degraded and narrowed access to users' rights." Service quality monitoring that misses out on those who are in the most difficulty "The systems put in place have a limitation that seriously distorts the analyses that can be made of their results: in most cases, they only collect the opinions of those who manage to connect, or even to complete the entire process.A multi-channel approach that is not designed as the norm
Some procedures still do not provide a real alternative to the online procedure. " These situations characterize a rupture of equality in front of the public service, give rise to a feeling of relegation or even exclusion for those who are subjected to them, and contribute to undermine our social cohesion.Physical reception facilities for users that do not cover all needs "When they require users to access their services via the Internet, some administrations make the effort to offer a complementary physical reception service, which is not strictly speaking an alternative to digital access, but which represents a service to support the completion of online procedures.
The report mentions, in this regard, the "digital reception points" (PAN) present in the prefectures and sub-prefectures of each department: it observes that the support of mediators there "is limited to support in the use of computer tools".
With regard to the creation of France Services spaces, the report observes that this is "still a very young system, which is still being deployed. In the long run, its relevance and effectiveness will certainly depend on several factors: a sufficiently fine network of the territory, the quality of the training and the employment framework for the reception agents who are in contact with users, the constant commitment of the partner institutions, and the sustainability of the financial support.A digital inclusion offer that is poorly known and not very clear
The Human Rights Defender underlines " the lack of knowledge of the users of the support systems, including the local public service offer France Services, even though the latter was the subject of a national communication campaign in the second quarter of 2021", a lack of knowledge, "which is not unrelated to their multiplication" ."A large number of actors - local authorities, government services, social security organizations, associations and commercial companies - are developing support tools on various scales, with different target audiences and varying services and approaches. In theory, this multiplicity of services has the advantage of giving users many points of entry, or even of finding services adapted to their personal situation. It also allows remarkable initiatives to emerge. However,"some social support professionals have trouble knowing which is the right simulator or the right training, or the right interlocutor, which service is actually provided, to ensure its relevance or quality". A long way to digital autonomy ..."Digital training cannot, however, take the place of the only policy for access to rights and public services, as the user cannot be held responsible for his or her ability to master the computer tool" observes the Defender of Rights."It is not only illusory to believe that all people who have difficulties with digital technology are ready to become autonomous by means of a simple training, but it should also be remembered that training is not an obligation: users have the "right" not to be trained in digital technology and not to use digital technology for their exchanges with the administration. They cannot be deprived of their access to fundamental rights, nor to the services for which they are eligible, simply because they do not use electronic communications. Short-term funding" The provisions of the France Relance plan that make digital inclusion a government objective provide significant resources for the recruitment and training of digital advisors between 2020 and 2022, but without specifying the funding planned beyond these first two years."
The burden and responsibility for the proper functioning of the procedure rests with the userAlready in 2019, the Defender of Rights had warned that the digitization of procedures made access to public services conditional on the user's ability to pay: cost of equipment, subscription, costs related to the use of private service providers who offer, in return for payment, to carry out certain administrative procedures (requesting a residence permit, birth certificate, driver's license, etc.) on behalf of the applicants."This transfer of financial burden, which today clearly puts some users in difficulty in accessing their rights, is accompanied by a transfer of workload: on the Internet, the user must obtain information, find his or her way around, fill in online forms on his or her own, keep track of his or her e-mails on one or more messaging systems, update his or her browser and the various software programs required, fully understand the implications of checking this or that box, adapt to changes in the sites, digitize documents, etc."
Finally, this transfer of responsibility is accompanied by a new responsibility that weighs on the user: " he or she must be able to do all of this, with ease, without making mistakes, by taking the necessary initiatives to do so. The dematerialization process seems to be implicitly based on a specific conception of what the user should be today, in the digital age: a perfectly autonomous actor, who does not mobilize administrative resources. This is an ideal user, towards which all users should strive. And for those who can't, forced dematerialization is a form of institutional abuse.
In addition to a still important digital exclusion, new forms of difficulties for the users are added"Despite the investments and measures put in place by the public authorities, the situation of users has changed little since the previous report of the Human Rights Defender, and most of the observations made in 2019 are still valid today: a significant part of the population does not, in fact, have access to dematerialized procedures, due to a lack of appropriate equipment, know-how, and access to an Internet connection of sufficient quality, and many referrals to the territorial delegates in terms of relations with public services stem from the difficulties generated by the digital transformation.
In 2021, the Human Rights Defender observes an increase of 15% in the number of complaints concerning users of public services.
Digital divides that are not being bridged"A significant portion of the population does not use online procedures, and of those who do, 13% have difficulty doing so on their own. The inability to access digital administration is not marginal, it affects millions of people."
This observation is based on data from the Digital Barometer and the National Observatory of Poverty and Social Exclusion (ONPES).
- 19% of French people do not have a computer at home, 22% of people have neither a computer nor a tablet at home.
- 28% of people consider themselves not very competent or not competent to carry out an administrative procedure online.
- The declared "incompetence" is higher among the least qualified individuals, those with a low standard of living or those living in rural areas, among 18-24 year olds and among those over 70 years old, but regardless of the categories analyzed, a significant portion of the population does not feel competent to carry out its online procedures. 8% of French people do not have a personal or professional e-mail address.
- 76% of French people aged 18 and over used digital administration in 2020, an action more easily carried out by the most highly educated and privileged groups.
- In 2019, while in the majority of cases people achieve this on their own without difficulty, 13% needed outside assistance to achieve this. 6% of people failed. For the latter, in half of the cases, people achieve their ends by going directly to the counter of the administration concerned, or by making contact by phone. But in almost one out of three cases (28%) the process was not completed.
Some populations are structurally penalized by the development of digital administrationAt the beginning of 2022, 40% of public websites are now accessible to people with disabilities. "This increase can be welcomed as a step forward, but it is not enough to guarantee universal access to administrative procedures, since more than 60% of public sites are still "out of reach" for people with disabilities. "Thesame is true of the situation of detainees, which has hardly changed at all, even though they are faced with the need to carry out administrative procedures in order to exercise their rights.A similar observation prevails for other categories of people, such as people living in poverty, the elderly and protected adults. Obstacles to access to rights seem to have even increased for young people, for some parents or for foreigners, who are still victims of very serious administrative malfunctions that jeopardize their access to some of their fundamental rights.
Strengthen the digital inclusion policy and offer users the possibility to really choose their modes of interaction with the administrationsIn this report, the Human Rights Defender proposes ways to help ensure that dematerialization benefits all users, not just a few."Of course, the effectiveness of the digital inclusion policy must be strengthened, it must be set in stone, it must be given resources and visibility, and the quality of dematerialized procedures must be improved. Numerous measures are proposed in this direction, particularly for the populations currently most penalized by dematerialization.
It is also proposed to " reverse the perspective and offer users the possibility to really choose their modes of interaction with the administrations so that the public service adapts to the needs and realities of the users and not the opposite (...). The dematerialization of administrative procedures would thus be an additional offer and not a substitute for the counter, paper mail or the telephone.
38 new recommendationsTo set up a real system of control of the conformity of the public websites to the rules of accessibility, accompanied by dissuasive sanctions and an obligation to take into account, in particular in the specifications of the public markets, accessibility at the time of the design or the reorganization of a site.
The Human Rights Defender invites the Government to consider the creation of an interministerial delegation for digital accessibility, which would be responsible for the steering, control and long-term monitoring of the digital accessibility of public services.
Introduce digital accessibility training into the initial and ongoing training of digital professionals.
Guarantee access to the websites of public services, social organizations and online training sites recognized by the Ministry of National Education and the Ministry of Higher Education and Research for persons deprived of their freedom.
To propose to people deprived of their liberty a training in digital tools and an accompaniment in their administrative steps.
Involve precarious or poor users, the associations that support them and social workers in the design and ongoing evaluation of public sites in order to understand their difficulties and to study their proposals for adapting their ergonomics and the vocabulary of the forms.
Encourage the development of partnerships between fixed-line telecommunications operators and public or private social landlords or managers of student housing, boarding houses or even emergency shelters, to offer these tenants a connection at a negotiated solidarity price.
Provide access to internet and cell phone charging in medical and social facilities, including shelters.
Develop the recovery and reconditioning of computers, tablets and smartphones, to give them a second life at fair prices, in line with the law of November 15, 2021 aimed at reducing France's digital environmental footprint, which provides that, within six months of its enactment, the Government shall submit a report to Parliament on the measures that could be considered to improve the recycling, reuse and reemployment of digital equipment and on the feasibility of these measures.
Better control the cost of calls to government offices, which are still not negligible from prepaid cards, and better inform users of the costs involved in using videoconferencing.
To set up "outreach" actions, aimed at those who are furthest away from public services, from digital technology and therefore from access to rights.
Simplify the procedures for accessing rights, such as the digital safe.
To make adjustments to best guarantee the rights of protected adults. The Human Rights Defender also recommends that the Cnaf ensure that the conditions of access to its website are harmonised for the different statuses of the legal representatives for the protection of adults (services, individuals, agents, families or relatives) so that there are no disparities depending on the way the measure is exercised.
Be vigilant in the deployment of the new digital health space, which aims to gather users' medical data in the form of a digital health book (prescriptions, tests, results of analyses, etc.).
Extend access to the "Caregiver Connect" feature to family guardians and curators.
Train young people in the digital world of everyday life and facilitate the steps they must take as young adults from a single point of entry.
Organize consultations within the educational community on the transmission of information on the schooling of primary and secondary school students (grades, homework, absences, etc.) to ensure that this is done in a way that is based on pedagogical choices and not dictated by technology - always with the best interests of the child in mind. The Human Rights Defender also recommends that families should be able to obtain from schools and educational institutions the maintenance of non-digital communications.
Accompany the dematerialization with additional staff in all prefectures where processing times are currently too long.
The Human Rights Defender reiterates the recommendations made in her decision 2020, in particular:
- guaranteeing several methods of effective access to public services so that no administrative procedure is accessible only by paperless means;
- allow users to contact the agent in charge of processing their request in order to be regularly informed of the progress of the instruction of the latter;
- Establish a procedure allowing the user to report a difficulty - of a technical nature or due to an unforeseen situation - in carrying out the process, by any useful means;
- allow the agents to whom these difficulties are reported to have sufficient prerogatives to resolve them.
Guarantee equal access to prefectural offices for all foreigners, regardless of their administrative situation.
Modify the system for issuing dematerialized certificates that create rights so that they are issued as soon as a file is registered and considered complete, including to people in an irregular situation.
Add to the list of documents required to prove the legality of residence in order to receive family benefits and housing assistance, as set out in the Social Security Code, the dematerialized certificates issued via the ANEF.
Further develop the possibilities of multiple access to public services, as the implementation of multi-channel reception cannot be limited to the France Services areas alone. Wherever they are, users must be able to choose the most appropriate method of communication for their situation when dealing with the administration.
Adopt a legislative provision, within the code of relations between users and the administration, imposing the preservation of several methods of access to public services so that no administrative procedure is accessible only by electronic means.
Make the telephone platforms of all public services (toll-free number) really free and not only the non surtaxation of the calls.
Improve user information in order to raise awareness of the fact that administrative procedures are free of charge and to put an end to the practice of directing users to a paying private service.
To give the user the possibility of withdrawing, at any time, his consent to dematerialized exchanges, either permanently or temporarily.
Introduce the principle of sending paper notifications of the granting, withdrawal or revision of rights, including deadlines and appeal procedures, unless the person expressly consents in advance to electronic exchanges.
Guarantee a deadline for making corrections for all administrative procedures carried out online.
Include digitally challenged users in the development and evaluation of the dematerialization processes of public services.
Group the modifications of the interfaces in order to limit their number so as not to disturb the users, because repeated changes of interfaces and close in time have an impact on the users (loss of reference points, sometimes renunciation) but also on the guides who have to readapt their pedagogical tools of accompaniment (update of tutorials).
Adopt in all public services producing online procedures or distributing online information, an approach facilitating the understanding by all of the tasks, steps, choices, important information... This approach, which will benefit all users, should be based on :
- the use of ergonomics adapted to all and the use of simple vocabulary and wording. In this regard, the Defender of Rights had recommended in 2019 the use of "easy to read and understand" (FALC) language;
- the development of tutorials explaining how the process works and the documents needed to complete the process. These tutorials, as well as the forms, especially those for foreigners, could be translated into several languages and made accessible to people with disabilities.
Develop free WIFI spaces and conduct a consultation on a "right to connection" or a "right to digital access", involving both Internet service providers and vulnerable people. Conduct experiments to determine the best model for making the Internet accessible to all.
Take all necessary measures to ensure that the support systems for users are known, that their services are identified and qualified, and that their action is coordinated.
Create, at the Ministry of Labor, the Ministry of the Civil Service and the Ministry of National Education, an industry for digital mediation jobs, particularly in the local civil service, thus ensuring the sustainability of their action and their usefulness.
Promote, in all places where administrative procedures are supported, particularly in France Services areas, the presence of a digital public writer accessible free of charge.