1. Main points

  • The internet was accessed every day, or almost every day, by 78% of adults (39.3 million) in Great Britain in 2015, compared with 35% (16.2 million) in 2006, when directly comparable records began

  • Almost all adults aged 16 to 24 (96%) accessed the internet “on the go”, compared with only 29% of those aged 65 years and over

  • Social networking was used by 61% of adults, and of those, 79% did so every day or almost every day

  • In 2015, 76% of adults bought goods or services online, up from 53% in 2008. “Clothes or sports goods” were purchased by 55% of adults, making them the most popular online purchase

  • In the last 3 months, 22% of adults purchased online once or twice, while 28% of adults purchased 11 or more times. Online purchases totalling £100 to £499 were made by 42% of adults who had bought online in the last 3 months

  • In 2015, 86% of households in Great Britain (22.5 million) had internet access, up from 57% in 2006

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2. Overview

The internet continues to change the way people go about their lives, especially in areas such as shopping and communication. In 2015, over three quarters of adults in Great Britain used the internet every day, or almost every day (78%) and a similar proportion (74%) accessed the internet “on the go” (away from home or work).

The Internet Access Survey results are derived from the Opinions and Lifestyle Survey (OPN). Estimates for 2015 in this release refer to data collected in the January, February and April 2015 modules of the OPN.

We first collected statistics on internet access in 1998. Since then, various changes have been made to the Internet Access Survey, including the publication of annual results since 2006. Where possible, comparisons over time are made in this release. However, the available coverage for time series comparisons varies, as the questions included in the survey change each year.

In this release, new estimates by disability status have been introduced, to accompany breakdowns by age group and sex. These breakdowns are based on respondents reporting that that they have a health condition or illness in line with the Equality Act definition of disability. These new estimates show that adults with the status of “Equality Act disabled” consistently reported lower rates of internet activities than those who did not have this status.

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3. Your views matter

We are constantly aiming to improve this release and its associated commentary. We would welcome any feedback you might have and would be particularly interested in knowing how you make use of the data to inform your work. Please contact us via email: esociety@ons.gsi.gov.uk or telephone Cecil Prescott on +44 (0)1633 456767.

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4. E-commerce event on the changing shape of business

Since 2012, a series of annual events has been held on the theme of the changing shape of business. These have been jointly co-ordinated with the Department of Business, Innovation and Skills (BIS). The last event, The changing shape of UK manufacturing, was held on 22 October 2014.

On 8 October 2015, we will be holding the next event in the series, called “How e-commerce is changing the shape of business”. This will be held at the BIS Conference Centre, London. The event will feature a range of talks from users, producers and suppliers of e-commerce business statistics, from government, international organisations and business. For more information about the event, or to register your attendance, please email BusinessStatisticsUserConference@bis.gov.uk.

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5. Computer and internet use

Computer and internet use have increased over time, as shown in Figures 1 and 2. Use of a computer is linked to the ability of an individual to use the internet. In 2015, 72% of adults in Great Britain used a computer every day, up from 45% in 2006, while only 10% of adults had never used a computer in 2015. Of those adults aged 16 to 24, only 1% had never used a computer, while 32% of adults aged 65 and over had never done so.

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6. Frequency of internet use

In 2015, 78% of adults (39.3 million) in Great Britain used the internet every day or almost every day. This was more than double the proportion of adults (35%) that used the internet daily in 2006, when directly comparable records began. Daily internet use increased by 2 percentage points since 2014 (as shown in Figure 2).

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7. Mobile internet access

The availability of wireless (wifi) hotspots has been rapidly increasing and thousands of hotspots are available across the country at various places, such as pubs, cafes, hotels and others.

In 2015, 74% of adults had used the internet “on the go” using a mobile phone, portable computer or handheld device (as shown in figure 3). Almost all adults aged 16 to 24 (96%) accessed the internet “on the go”, compared with only 29% of those aged 65 years and over.

The most common type of device used to access the internet "on the go" was a mobile phone or smartphone (66%), followed by portable computer, such as, a laptop or tablet (45%). Other handheld devices were used to access the internet "on the go" by 17% of adults.

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8. Internet activities

Of the internet activities surveyed in 2015, email remained the most common, with 76% of adults having used the internet for this purpose. This was an increase of just 1 percentage point since 2014, but 19 percentage points since the 2007 estimate of 57%. The second most common internet activity in 2015 was finding information about goods and services, undertaken by 69% of adults. This estimate is up from 58% in 2007, but down slightly compared with 73% in 2014.

All internet activities that were surveyed in 2007 and again in 2015 have seen an increase in use. "Reading online news, newspapers or magazines" showed the largest increase; 62% of adults used the internet to read online news, newspapers or magazines in 2015, more than 3 times the proportion doing so in 2007 (20%).

In 2015, adults aged 25 to 34 had the highest (or joint highest) use across 7 of the 17 categories surveyed. Those aged 16 to 24 reported the highest (or joint highest) use in 6 of the 17 categories.

Adults aged 16 to 24 were most likely to engage in online activities that focused on leisure or recreation, such as social networking (92%) or education and training (59%). Adults aged 25 to 34 reported the highest level of use in some “day-to-day” activities such as use of email (88%, the same as the 35 to 44 age group) and reading online news, newspapers or magazines (77%). Since 2007, the use of internet banking has nearly doubled, from 30% of adults, to 56% in 2015. More than three quarters (76%) of those aged 25 to 34 carried out internet banking in 2015.

Use of the internet for social networking continued to grow, rising to 61% in 2015. This was an increase from 45% in 2011 and 54% in 2014. Social networking is widespread in all age groups, up to and including those aged 55 to 64, where 44% of adults reported use. Of those aged 65 and over, 15% used social networks. Social networking has become part of many adults’ everyday lives. Of the 61% of adults who used social networks in the last 3 months, 79% did so every day or almost every day.

For the majority of the internet activities surveyed, there was little difference in the proportion of men and women carrying out the activities. Exceptions to this were downloading software, which was carried out by 38% of men, compared with 19% of women, and professional networking, which was also carried out by a higher proportion of men (21%) than women (10%).

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9. Internet shopping

The number of high street shops has been in decline, as highlighted by the BBC. In recent years there has been strong growth in internet shopping. In 2015, more than three quarters (76%) of adults reported buying goods or services over the internet in the last 12 months, up from 53% in 2008. Younger adults have embraced internet shopping, with 65% of those aged 16 to 24 purchasing over the internet in 2008, rising to 90% in 2015. This was twice the proportion of adults aged 65 and over (42%) who bought online in 2015. However, there was large growth in the rate of online purchasing by those aged 65 and over, rising from 16% in 2008.

“Clothes or sports goods” were the most popular online purchase in 2015, bought by 55% of adults. Those aged 16 to 24 most likely to buy these items (74%). “Household goods (for example, furniture, toys etc)" were the next most popular items, purchased online by 44% of adults. “Travel arrangements” and “holiday accommodation” were both purchased online by 37% of adults.

In 11 of the 15 categories surveyed, adults aged 35 to 44 reported the highest (or joint highest) rates of internet shopping.

There are differences between age groups in goods and services bought online. Figure 6 focuses on the 10 categories with the largest differences between the youngest and oldest age groups. The largest difference was for “clothes or sports goods”, with 74% of adults aged 16 to 24 purchasing these, compared with 19% of those aged 65 and over.

In 2015, new estimates were collected on the total value of respondents’ internet purchases. Of those adults who had purchased online in the last 3 months, 42% made purchases totalling £100 to £499, 12% made purchases of less than £50, and 9% made purchases of £2,000 or more.

Purchases valued from £100 to £499 were the most common across all age groups. Unlike many of the comparisons in this release, there was relatively little difference between the age groups in the values of their internet expenditure. Of those aged 16 to 24, 49% spent on purchases in this range, compared with 42% of those aged 65 and over.

Of those adults who had bought over the internet in the last 3 months, 28% had done so 11 or more times, while 22% had done so only once or twice. Adults aged 35 to 44 purchased most often, with 42% buying online 11 times or more in the last 3 months.

In 2015, adults who had bought or ordered goods or services online were asked about problems they may have encountered. The most common problems encountered were “technical failure of website during ordering or payment” and “speed of delivery slower than indicated”, both at 27%. However, 50% reported that they had not encountered any problems with internet purchasing.

Adults who had not bought over the internet in the last 12 months were asked why this was. The most common reason, given by 58%, was that they “preferred to shop in person”. “Payment security or privacy concerns” were cited by 27% of these adults and “lack of skills or knowledge” by 19%.

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10. Public authorities and services

In 2012 the UK government launched a “digital by default” strategy whereby public services would be migrated to the internet. This Digital Transformation began with work to move 25 services online.

In 2015, the most common reason for using the internet to interact with public authorities or services was to obtain information from websites, (33% of adults), followed by submitting completed forms (30%) and downloading official forms (24%).

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11. Internet security and internet storage

A range of security problems are experienced when adults use the internet. In 2015, 17% of adults who used the internet in the last 12 months had caught a virus or other infection on their computer (for example, a “worm” or “trojan”), which resulted in a loss of information or time. However, the other categories of security problems that were surveyed were experienced by very few internet users. Just 3% reported that they had experienced abuse of personal information, and/or other privacy violations and 3% experienced financial loss due to fraudulent messages or fake websites.

Adults also reported awareness of internet security issues. Of those who had used the internet in the last 12 months, 65% were aware that cookies can be used to trace online activity and 52% had made back up files to an external storage device or to internet storage space.

Respondents were asked about their security concerns. Of those who had used the internet in the last 12 months, 17% reported that security concerns had limited them “providing personal information to online communities for social and professional networking”. Security concerns also resulted in 14% of adults limiting their internet banking activities and 12% limited their internet purchasing.

The availability of internet storage space has grown in recent years with services such as iCloud, Dropbox and Google Drive available for free. In 2014, 67% of adults were aware of services to store information and data on the internet and in 2015, 40% of adults had used such services.

The youngest age group, adults aged 16 to 24, had the highest proportion using internet storage space, at 55%. In both the 25 to 34 and 35 to 44 age groups, 47% of adults used internet storage space.

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12. Household internet access

In 2015, 86% of households in Great Britain (22.5 million) had an internet connection. This was up from 84% in 2014 and 57% in 2006. Household internet access has increased since we first began collecting these statistics in 1998. There were changes in the survey source, periodicity and coverage over the period 1998 to 2005. This means that the estimates prior to 2006 are not directly comparable with the annual estimates from 2006 onwards, but they have been provided as our best available indication of growth over this period.

Internet access varies depending on household composition. Nearly all (97%) of households with children have an internet connection. Access to the internet by single adult households varies considerably depending on age. For households with one adult aged 65 or over, only 49% had internet access. In contrast 80% of households with only one adult aged 16 to 64 years, had internet access. The vast majority of households with internet access had fixed broadband, such as DSL, cable or optical fibre (94%).

In 2015, of the 14% of households in Great Britain with no internet access, 31% reported that this was due to a lack of skills. Further barriers reported included equipment costs being too high (14%) and access costs being too high (12%), while 53% of households without internet access reported that this was because they didn’t need it.

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13 .Background notes

  1. Main issues specific to this bulletin

    This statistical bulletin contains information about how adults use the internet and households with internet access. The source of this information is the Opinions and Lifestyle Survey (OPN). The OPN is a multi-purpose survey developed by us for use by government departments, other public bodies, charities, academics and the media. It provides a fast, cost effective and reliable way of obtaining information on topics too brief to warrant their own survey. A random sample of about 1,800 adults aged 16 and over, living in private households throughout Great Britain, is selected each month the survey takes place. After accounting for refusals and where no contact can be made, approximately 1,000 interviews are conducted each month. For general information on the survey, telephone +44 (0)1633 455810, email: opinions@ons.gsi.gov.uk.

    The annual release of estimates of internet access began in 2006. Internet access results were originally published from 1998 onwards. Between 1998 and 2006, the results were published more frequently, but were based on smaller sample sizes. There were also various changes made to the survey in this earlier period. Some historical internet access estimates published before 2006 are available on our website. However, any comparisons between estimates in this release and those published prior to 2006 should be made with caution.

    The estimates in the 2015 survey relate to Great Britain. For the period 2006 to 2010, this bulletin was published on a UK basis. Northern Ireland has not been sampled since the 2008 survey, but was included in the survey estimation process for the 2009 and 2010 results, which meant UK estimates were also produced for 2009 and 2010. Northern Ireland was not included in the estimation process for 2011; therefore the coverage of the survey was changed in 2011 from UK to Great Britain and all estimates in this bulletin were reworked to relate to Great Britain. As in previous years, the Isles of Scilly and the Scottish Highlands (North of the Caledonian Canal) and Islands were not sampled, but are included in the estimation process).

    In this release, new breakdowns of some estimates by disability status have been introduced, to accompany estimates by age group and sex that have previously been included. These breakdowns are based on respondents’ reporting that they have a health condition or illness in line with the Equality Act definition of disability.

    The questions asked were: “Do you have any physical or mental health conditions or illnesses expected to last for 12 months or more?”

    Those who said yes were then asked:

    “Does your condition or illness/do any of your conditions or illnesses reduce your ability to carry out day-to-day activities?” If the respondent answered “yes, a lot”, or “yes, a little” then they met the status of disabled according to the Equality Act 2010.

  2. Common pitfalls in interpreting series

    References to 2015 in this release refer to data collected in interviews in January, February and April 2015.

    The statistics presented in this release should not be confused with estimates published in the Internet Users statistical bulletin, first published on 22 May 2015. The Internet Users statistical bulletin contains estimates of adults who were recent or lapsed internet users and who have never used the internet and replaces the estimates previously published in the Internet Access Quarterly Update statistical bulletin, which has been discontinued.

    The estimates in Internet Users are derived from the Labour Force Survey (LFS), which has a much larger sample than the OPN and therefore allows for more detailed socio-economic analysis to be undertaken. The estimates from the LFS should be used as our official source for the number of individuals in the UK accessing the internet

  3. Revisions

    There are no revisions to estimates previously published.

  4. Users and uses of the data

    Eurostat (the statistical office of the European Commission) is a key user of these statistics. The UK provides estimates to Eurostat in accordance with the Regulation (EC) No 808/2004 of the European Parliament and of the Council. Eurostat publish comparable data for EU (European Union) countries on the Information Society area of their website.

    Within the UK there is also wide interest in these statistics from government and other public bodies, researchers, charities, academics and the media.

    The internet access estimates are used to provide information that is consistent with other EU member states, as part of progress towards measuring EU benchmarking indicators. These EU indicators compare the development and use of information and communications technology (ICT) across EU member states, and help to provide a better understanding of the adoption of ICT and the internet by households and individuals at an EU level.

    ICT is considered as critical for improving the competitiveness of European industry and, more generally, to meet the demands of society and the economy. Broadband is considered to be important when measuring access to, and use of, the internet, as it offers users the possibility to rapidly transfer large volumes of data and keep access lines open. The take-up of broadband is a key ICT policy-making indicator. Widespread access to the internet via broadband is regarded as essential for the development of advanced services on the internet, such as e-business, e-government or e-learning.

    The EU policy framework for ICT is the Digital Agenda for Europe, which is part of the Europe 2020 strategy for smart, sustainable and inclusive growth. It outlines policies and actions aimed at maximising the benefit of the digital era to all sections of society and economy.

    Do you make use of our estimates of annual internet access and use of computers? If yes, we would like to hear from you (esociety@ons.gsi.gov.uk) and understand how you make use of these statistics. This may enable us, in the future, to better meet your needs as a user.

  5. Coherence

    The results published in this bulletin focus on adults’ use of the internet. These estimates complement those contained in the annual Internet Users statistical bulletin, published on 22 May 2015. Internet Users focuses on adults who are recent or lapsed internet users, and adults who have never used the internet. Derived from the Labour Force Survey (LFS), which has a sample of approximately 41,000 households each quarter, it contains detailed breakdowns, by age group, sex and region.

    The estimates of internet access and use in this release were compiled from approximately 3,000 interviews conducted for the OPN. Therefore, the LFS estimates of internet users are considered to be more reliable.

    Our annual survey of E-commerce and ICT Activity provides information on business e-commerce and ICT activity of UK businesses. The 2013 survey results were published on 28 November 2014.

  6. Sampling variability

    The OPN, used to collect the estimates in this release, is a sample survey, interviewing a nationally representative sample of households in Great Britain. Estimates are therefore subject to sampling variability. The survey is also subject to non-sampling error including non-response.

    Confidence intervals are an indication of the reliability of an estimate; the smaller the interval, the more reliable the estimate is likely to be. With regards to “95% confidence intervals”, this means that if we repeated our survey 100 times, 95% of the time (95 times out of 100), the true population value would be expected to fall within the range of these confidence intervals.

    The larger the sample that is used for a particular estimate, the narrower the confidence interval will be. Estimates at Great Britain level will have a larger sample than estimates of sub-groups of the population (that is, estimates broken down by age group). Therefore, the quality of estimates for the whole population will be higher than that for sub-groups. The confidence interval tables, show estimated 95% confidence intervals for selected estimates from this release.

    The voluntary nature of the survey means that people who do not wish to take part in the survey can refuse to do so.

    The sample is designed to ensure that the results of the survey represent the population. The risk of the survey not being representative is likely to increase with every refusal or non-contact with a sampled household (survey non-response). One measure of the quality of survey results is therefore the response rate. The response rate for 2015 was 56%, the rate of refusals was 34% and 10% of the sample could not be contacted.

  7. Calibration

    Weights are used in the analysis of the OPN survey data, for both households and for individuals. Each respondent to the survey is assigned a weight, which is the number of adults or households that this person represents. These weights are derived by calibration, using population estimates for age group by sex and region. The weights are used to improve the accuracy of results by compensating for different response rates for different groups and by reducing the random variation in estimates. As the responses are weighted to population estimates, weighted totals of individuals by age group, sex and region from the survey are guaranteed to match the fixed population totals. However, there are no fixed control totals for the numbers of households, and therefore, estimates relating to the numbers of household with internet access are survey estimates, which are subject to sample variation.

  8. Rounding

    Percentages in the data tables may not sum to 100 or agree with related totals, due to independently rounded components.

  9. International comparison

    A comparable survey is run in all countries of the EU and also in some non-EU countries. The measurement of household internet access and adults’ use of the internet is under continuing review and development. The Statistical Office of the European Commission (Eurostat) plays a leading role in this, and each year leads a process whereby the data requirements for the internet access survey in all EU countries are reviewed and updated. Comparative data for EU countries can be found on Eurostat’s website.

  10. Social media

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    Like ONS on Facebook to receive our updates in your newsfeed and to post comments on our page.

  11. Special events

    ONS has published commentary, analysis and policy on 'Special Events' which may affect statistical outputs. For full details visit the Special Events page on the ONS website.

  12. Release policy

    Details of the policy governing the release of new data are available by visiting www.statisticsauthority.gov.uk/assessment/code-of-practice/index.html or from the Media Relations Office email: media.relations@ons.gsi.gov.uk

    These National Statistics are produced to high professional standards and released according to the arrangements approved by the UK Statistics Authority.

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Contact details for this Statistical bulletin

Cecil Prescott
esociety@ons.gsi.gov.uk
Telephone: +44 (0)1633 456767