GOV.UK accounts system will ‘build on lessons of Verify’, minister says

Julia Lopez claims that identity assurance tool ‘continues to work well’

Credit: Crown Copyright/Open Government Licence v3.0

The new GOV.UK accounts service will incorporate the “lessons and experience” gained from the Verify identity-assurance tool, according to Cabinet Office minister Julia Lopez.

The Government Digital Service is currently developing online accounts for use across GOV.UK. This service is intended to replace a patchwork of more than 100 existing systems with a single means of logging in to access government’s online services.

It has never been entirely clear whether this process would somehow incorporate GOV.UK Verify, or some other means of identity-verification – or if, perhaps, the launch of the accounts might signal the end of Verify, for which government funding is currently scheduled to conclude in September.

Answering a written parliamentary question from Labour MP Daniel Zeichner this week, Lopez seemed to indicate that the login process might include new means through which citizens could prove their identity. 

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These may lean on existing government information – unlike Verify, which has used verification from external providers. Over the last three years, the ranks of these providers have shrunk from seven to just two: the Post Office; and Digidentity.

“Building on the lessons and experiences of Verify, and as we announced in last year’s Spending Review, the Government Digital Service is collaborating with other departments to develop a new login and identity assurance system that will make it easier for more people to use online services safely,” Lopez said. “For example, we know that extra data sources will be needed for a more inclusive service, so we are also working with the Home Office on its digitisation of birth, marriage and death records.”

Government funding for Verify was scheduled to end in March 2020, with responsibility for supporting and developing the service due to be handed over to the platform’s commercial providers at that point. 

However, as several of these providers announced that they planned to end their support for Verify – and with the identity-assurance tool needed to support the huge spike in Universal Credit applications caused by the pandemic – the government decided to extend financial backing for the service for another 18 months, by signing contracts with the two remaining providers.

The Universal Credit registration process is the biggest of the – comparatively limited – number of services that Verify supports. Since launching four years behind schedule in 2016, uptake of Verify has remained a very long way short of the 25 million sign-ups target that government set itself.

A scathing 2019 report from the Public Accounts Committee said that the project to develop the tool was characterised by “poor decisions compounded by a failure to take accountability”.

But, in parliament this week, Lopez wrote that the tool at least now does a good job for those services and citizens it now serves

“Verify continues to work well, in support of 22 government services,” she said. “Over 8 million people have used Verify, with 2 million added in the last year as citizens accessed critical online services during the pandemic.”

Last week Lopez delivered the opening address at the PublicTechnology Live event, in which she discussed her vision for an accounts system that will allow government to deliver personalised online tools that serve citizens “proactively – rather than reactively”.

“Work is ongoing to develop a GOV.UK account which, over time, will allow us to proactively provide information and services to users based on their user needs and what they have told us about themselves,” she said. “This will reduce friction for users, so they do not have to give giving different parts of government the same information multiple times and link together services to make user journeys simpler.”

Sam Trendall

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