Background to the report
People are increasingly living their lives online. According to research by Ofcom, 93% of UK adults have access to the internet at home, and they spent on average just under four hours online a day in September 2022.Jump to downloads
Of internet users in the UK, 68% of child users (aged 13-17), and 62% of adult users (aged 18+), indicated in 2022 that they had experienced at least one potential online harm in the last four weeks. Harmful content can vary in nature, from child sexual abuse material and terrorist content to online fraud and the encouragement of self-harm.
The government has set itself an objective of making the UK the safest place in the world to go online. To achieve this, in March 2022 the government introduced to Parliament the Online Safety Bill. The government considers that, with this Bill, the UK will be the first country to regulate such a comprehensive range of online harms
Scope of the report
During our work on this report, responsibility for delivering the Online Safety Bill moved from DCMS to a new department, the Department for Science, Innovation & Technology (DSIT), after machinery-of-government changes in early 2023. In this report, we will refer to DCMS or DSIT, as appropriate, reflecting which department was responsible at that time.
This report examines whether the preparations undertaken by DSIT (and previously DCMS) and Ofcom for the implementation of the new online safety legislation are sufficiently advanced. Our evaluation and recommendations are based on our good practice guidance on the principles of effective regulation. The report covers work undertaken by the departments and Ofcom to:
- establish the regulatory framework
- prepare to implement the regulatory framework
- enable informed regulation
Securing adequate protection of citizens from online harm will be a big new role for Ofcom. It has been preparing for the introduction of the new regulatory regime for online safety at the same time as Parliament has been considering the Online Safety Bill establishing the regime. As a result, Ofcom has had to take account of significant changes to both the regime’s scope and timing.
Ofcom has made a good start to its preparations and has taken the steps it could reasonably have done by this point: compiling an evidence base to inform its implementation of the new regime; putting in place the capacity, capabilities and organisational design it needs to begin operating the regime; and engaging with stakeholders.
The regulator estimates that its cumulative costs in preparing for and implementing the regime could total £169 million by the end of 2024-25, of which £56 million will have been incurred by the end of 2022-23. The full regulatory regime will, however, only come into effect in phases over the two years after the Bill’s Royal Assent, and Ofcom still has lots to do in terms of finalising its arrangements.
Ofcom will need to manage several risks in implementing the new regulatory regime in a way that delivers value for money. It will need to move quickly to cover any gaps in its preparations arising from the significant amendments to the Online Safety Bill announced by the government at the end of June 2023 and any further changes before the Bill receives Royal Assent.
The regulator has also yet to secure the funding it needs for the extra staff it has identified that it will require. It will need to regulate a very large number of services, the great majority of which have not been regulated before and are unfamiliar with Ofcom and how it works, and which have no UK corporate or economic presence. It will need to cover its costs by introducing fees so that the regime becomes self-financing. It will also need to obtain good-quality data to monitor the compliance of services and to evaluate its own effectiveness and that of the regime.
Furthermore, it will be vital for Ofcom to secure public trust by managing the public’s expectations about the regime’s impact in its early years. This is a significant set of challenges, and Ofcom has already started to consider how it will address them.
- Report - Preparedness for online safety regulation (.pdf — 485 KB)
- Summary - Preparedness for online safety regulation (.pdf — 126 KB)
- ePub - Preparedness for online safety regulation (.epub — 1 MB)
- ISBN: 978-1-78604-503-4 [Buy a hard copy of this report]
- HC: 1660, 2022-23
View press release (12 Jul 2023)