Cabinet Office to offer further backing to identity-assurance tool while work takes place to develop government-wide login system
Credit: GDS/CC BY 2.0
The government is to spend about £11m a year to keep the GOV.UK Verify identity-assurance platform up and running until April 2023.
All public funding for the service was due to cease in March 2020, with responsibility for its further development scheduled to be handed over at that point to the tool’s commercial identity-provider partners. However, as the majority of those partners began to sever their ties with the platform – and with huge demands being placed on Verify by the surge in Universal Credit applications prompted by the coronavirus crisis – the government stepped in to continue funding the product until at least September 2021.
It was recently announced that support for new sign-ups to the service would continue for a further six months beyond that – until April 2022. Existing users can then continue to access the service for another additional year, until April 2023.
In a recent letter to Public Accounts Committee chair Meg Hillier, Cabinet Office permanent secretary Alex Chisholm said that £11m of government money was being spent on maintaining Verify through the 2021/22 year.
“As is currently the case, the majority of the costs of Verify will continue to be paid for by the Cabinet Office, with no changes in this financial year to the amount we charge departments to use the service,” he said. “We continue to manage costs and reduce these wherever possible, resulting in the cost to the taxpayer reducing from a peak of £40m in 2017/18.”
The continuation of Verify takes place alongside work, being led by the Government Digital Service, to develop GOV.UK accounts. This is designed to replace not only Verify and other similar tools, but what government claims is currently a patchwork of about 100 separate means of logging in to access various services across departments.
“GOV.UK Verify is now just one of several digital identity systems in operation across government,” Chisholm said. “Taken together, the government’s fragmented digital identity solutions are costly, duplicative and frustrating for citizens to use, as they need to create separate logins for each service and provide the same information to government over and over again. Multiple unconnected systems also make it harder for government to identify fraud and reduce errors.”
The Cabinet Office chief, who also serves as chief operating officer of the civil service, said that the November spending review had seen HM Treasury provide GDS with £21m to support the initial stages of development of the new login platform.
“[This will] enable GDS to build a pilot system as the first stage of an ambitious single sign-on and digital identity assurance system for the whole of government, alongside £11m to continue to run Verify during 2021/22 to minimise the risk of disruption to users and connected services as we transition on to the future system.”
Since launching five years ago, Verify has had tepid uptake across government, with only about 20 services making use of the platform. The new GOV.UK accounts system “is being built with the lessons of Verify front and centre”, Chisholm said.
“It is being co-designed and built in close collaboration with key departments, and with robust oversight from the IPA (Infrastructure and Projects Authority) and a dedicated ministerial group, jointly chaired by the chief secretary to the Treasury [Steve Barclay] and minister Julia Lopez, Cabinet Office parliamentary under-secretary.”