Understanding barriers to accessing digital services in Bristol in 2023

Summary of the findings about access, confidence, trust, and affordability of digital services from the annual Quality of Life survey.

What we did

Bristol’s Quality of Life survey is run each year by the data and insights team at Bristol City Council to understand people’s experience of living in Bristol. The survey from 2022 was published in April 2023 with responses from 3,905 Bristol citizens. The data was split to look into differences between ward areas and groups such as age, sex, and ethnicity.

We analysed the results from 11 questions about people’s ability to access digital services to better understand some of the barriers our different user groups may face. It’s our most comprehensive source of data about digital inclusion in Bristol. These questions were included in partnership with the former City Innovation team’s Connecting Bristol digital inclusion taskforce.

We’ll use the insights to inform our design thinking, when doing user research, and when considering how to improve usability and uptake of digital channels. This could also help to inform any future bids for digital inclusion projects.

What we learned


In Bristol:

  • 96% have access to the internet at home
  • 88% have access through cable TV or telephone line
  • 81% are comfortable using digital services
  • 42% have access via mobile phone or mobile broadband
  • 15% are prevented or restricted from accessing the internet by speed or reliability
  • 8% are uncomfortable using digital services
  • 4% lack the skills or confidence to use the internet
  • 2% can’t afford home broadband or equipment
  • 2% don’t have enough mobile data
  • 2% have cyber security or privacy concerns
  • 1% don’t have any or enough digital devices

Confidence is the biggest barrier

Having skills and feeling comfortable are the measures most divided between different areas and groups. While most people overall said they do have the skills and confidence to use digital services, the equivalent of 20,000 people don’t, and nearly 40,000 feel uncomfortable.

Education is the biggest factor in comfort using digital services. Most people with no qualifications didn’t say they feel comfortable using digital services and a quarter of them said they were uncomfortable. Most people with some qualifications did feel comfortable, including nearly everyone with a degree.

Age is the next biggest factor. While nearly everyone aged 16 to 24 years was comfortable, just over half over 50 were, and just under half of over 65 year olds.

The lowest education levels and oldest age groups are the only groups where most people don’t feel confident using digital services.

12% of people didn’t say they were either comfortable or uncomfortable, suggesting they’re ambivalent.

Affordability and trust are less of an issue

Less than 2% of people reported barriers related to affording connections and devices or worries about security and privacy. Most people, including the most deprived, don’t report affordability as a major barrier. It’s mostly consistent across areas and groups and continued to drop slightly over the past two years.

A recent survey by Citizen’s Advice suggested 1.5% of people, or nearly 7,000 in Bristol, could have cancelled their broadband in the last year due to the increasing cost of living. The results next year may indicate if this has had an impact.

Some groups and areas more frequently report most or all of the barriers at the same time

Groups that report significantly better than average include parents, people with no religion, 16 to 24 year olds, white minority ethnic, private rented, degree qualified, and LGB+.

Groups that report significantly worse than average include carers, disabled people, aged over 50, renting from the council or a housing association, Christians, and people with no qualifications.

In some ward areas, nearly everyone rated positively with using digital services. In others, a large minority didn’t. Areas with significantly fewer barriers were nearer the city centre, and have more students, young professionals, and affluent families. More barriers were prevalent in areas towards the edges of the city, with more social housing or sheltered accommodation.

As education and age are the biggest factors, this may account for some of the other groups that are more frequently better or worse than average.

Speed affects some people

15% of people say they are prevented or restricted by speed and reliability. This has reduced from 20% two years ago and does not vary significantly by area or deprivation.

Younger people, parents and carers are more likely to report restrictions due to speed or reliability. It is possible that younger people have higher expectations and older or less educated groups, who also report higher discomfort, do not use the internet as much, so don’t experience speed as a barrier. Factors to consider could be type of device, usage demands or other circumstantial stressors.

Most people have internet access

Nearly everyone can access the internet at home in all areas and most groups. It’s slightly below average for people with no qualifications, renting from the council, disabled, people over 50, Christian, the 10% most deprived, and people living in Filwood and Stockwood.

Most people access the internet through a phone line or cable TV, and nearly half use mobile broadband, which has nearly doubled since last year.

Find the full results and data from the Quality of Life survey 2022/23.

Sign up to register your interest in taking part in research about digital services in Bristol.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *