Is New Social Security Website Too Focused on Ease of Use? 5 Design Flaws Could Have Negative Impact

Worried senior couple using phone while sitting on sofa at home.
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The Social Security Administration unveiled a new website earlier this month that aims to help recipients find what they need online instead of having to call or visit the agency — something many have found nearly impossible due to ongoing customer service issues.

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But early reviews of the website aren’t all positive. At least one critic said the revamped SSA.gov might make it too easy to apply for Social Security benefits but too difficult to find important information.

The new site went live on Dec. 6 and promised “a fresh homepage and a new design” to help visitors find what they need more easily. According to the SSA announcement, the site provides better self-service options that let people avoid having to call or visit an office while also allowing Social Security staff to focus on people who need in-person assistance.

As previously reported by GOBankingRates, the SSA has been plagued by staff shortages and reduced funding in recent years, This has led to a backlog that has created long wait times on the SSA’s toll-free phone line, extensive delays on disability claims hearings and long lines at field offices. It didn’t help that a recent funding round of $400 million approved by Congress was only half of what the Biden administration requested.

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The SSA is banking on its new website to help alleviate some of the backlog.

“SSA.gov is visited by over 180 million people per year and it is one of our most important tools for providing efficient and equitable access to service,” SSA Acting Commissioner Kilolo Kijakazi said in a statement. “Whether providing service in person or online, our goal is to help people understand what they may qualify for and seamlessly transition them to an application process.”

Many of the most visited sections of SSA.gov feature a “more user-friendly and task-based approach,” the agency said, while new pages and improvements based on public feedback will continue to be unveiled in the coming months.

While the SSA waits for public feedback, the ALM Think Advisor website provided early feedback on Wednesday — and the reviews were not great.

Think Advisor quoted Marcia Mantell, founder and president of Mantell Retirement Consulting Inc., as saying that updates to SSA.gov are problematic because the new site seems to prioritize speed and ease of use over ensuring that users make good decisions and find important information.

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Here’s a look at five design flaws Mantell cited:

  1. The website makes it too easy to apply for benefits without reading through educational content, which could mean applicants “get no sense of how important this decision is and how their claiming decision spells a lifetime of consequences.”
  2. Helpful FAQs on claiming benefits are difficult to find.
  3. The button to appeal application decisions is located right beside the apply widget, which makes both appear to be casual decisions when they both have a huge potential impact.
  4. The widget to check your eligibility is “so simplified and so streamlined that it basically tells you nothing.”
  5. It is difficult to find the “Services For” button, which provides important benefits and claiming insights for demographic groups such as the self-employed, educators, faith-based workers, healthcare workers, veterans and LGBTQ people.

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About the Author

Vance Cariaga is a London-based writer, editor and journalist who previously held staff positions at Investor’s Business Daily, The Charlotte Business Journal and The Charlotte Observer. His work also appeared in Charlotte Magazine, Street & Smith’s Sports Business Journal and Business North Carolina magazine. He holds a B.A. in English from Appalachian State University and studied journalism at the University of South Carolina. His reporting earned awards from the North Carolina Press Association, the Green Eyeshade Awards and AlterNet. In addition to journalism, he has worked in banking, accounting and restaurant management. A native of North Carolina who also writes fiction, Vance’s short story, “Saint Christopher,” placed second in the 2019 Writer’s Digest Short Short Story Competition. Two of his short stories appear in With One Eye on the Cows, an anthology published by Ad Hoc Fiction in 2019. His debut novel, Voodoo Hideaway, was published in 2021 by Atmosphere Press.
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